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Senate panel extends deadline for report on FBI headquarters

A Senate committee has given the General Services Administration an additional two months to come up with a plan for building a new headquarters for the FBI, a massive project that was abruptly halted earlier this year.

The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works had requested that the agency submit a plan by Nov. 1 for how to proceed with the project. In a letter Friday, Republican Chairman John Barrasso of Wyoming and the committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, extended the deadline to Jan. 29.

The years-long effort to build the headquarters — a project that Maryland officials hope will land in Prince George’s County — faced considerable uncertainty when the GSA issued a vague statement in March saying Congress had not set aside enough money to continue its planning.

Some observers at the time speculated the project had either fallen out of favor with congressional Republicans or the Trump administration. The White House has never spoken about the project, and the president’s budget proposal did not include funding for the building this year.

But lawmakers appeared to be optimistic that the latest delay would result in a more comprehensive report from the GSA than had originally been anticipated, a sign that the agency might be working toward a solution. The lawmakers wrote a letter Friday to the GSA calling for the report to include information about site considerations and financing options.

Notably, the letter calls for an analysis of “how the work that has been done to date — including site selection and environmental impact — can be used to reduce the cost of the project.” That is a key request for lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia, because the GSA had previously narrowed possible locations to Greenbelt or Landover in Maryland, or Springfield, Va.

Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and a member of the public works committee, said in a statement that he welcomed the “additional time” to work with the agencies.

“I am heartened by reports that GSA, FBI and [the White House] actually are discussing how to deliver a fully consolidated facility for the FBI and I urge all parties to utilize the environmental impact and site work that GSA spent millions on during the earlier procurement process,” Cardin said.

President Donald Trump nominated Emily Webster Murphy of Missouri to be the administrator of the GSA in September. Her Senate confirmation is pending.

The administration also appointed Dan Mathews as a commissioner for the Public Buildings Service in July. Mathews was a longtime staff member at the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which has also had a hand in the FBI project. It was to Mathews that the lawmakers addressed their letter Friday.

GSA “continues to work with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to address the agency’s need for a modern headquarters,” the agency said in a statement. “Providing the FBI with a new headquarters to carry out its critical mission to protect the American people is a top priority for GSA, and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to develop the best possible solution in as timely a manner as practicable.”

Supporters say the FBI building will have to be built eventually because the current headquarters — the J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington — is in disrepair and cannot accommodate all the agency's employees. Instead, the headquarters workforce has been scattered among about two dozen annex buildings in the Washington region.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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