The Trump administration said Monday it plans to pull away from a proposal to build a new headquarters for the FBI in suburban Washington, dashing hopes that the project would be built in Maryland following years of planning and lobbying by state officials.
In a report due that was due months ago to the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, the General Services Administration said its new approach — rebuilding the agency’s current headquarters in downtown Washington — would provide the FBI with a building “capable of supporting national security … while providing a good deal for the taxpayer.”
The move was a significant blow to Maryland and Virginia, which had been competing for years for the project and its anticipated 11,000 jobs. The Trump administration halted the effort last year, citing a lack of funding from Congress.
Democrats in Maryland blasted the news Monday as “outrageous.”
“To put forward a proposal that has a higher cost for less consolidation and is inconsistent with congressional authorization is bizarre,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, a member of the Senate environmental committee. “It is incomprehensible how the agency came to this decision.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation had said it wanted to “fully consolidate” its operations for security and efficiency. The agency currently is spread out across dozens of field offices around Washington. Its current headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover Building, requires an estimated $80.5 million in renovations and upgrades.
The General Services Administration said the “work of the FBI requires a modern and secure headquarters with technology and equipment to support the men and women of the FBI who are dedicated to keeping our country safe.”
In a statement, the agency said that its recommendation “provides for the new headquarters the FBI needs to accomplish its important work.”
But a copy of the report obtained by The Baltimore Sun shows that the new building in Washington would not fully consolidate the agency. Instead, the document refers to a “nationally focused consolidation” that would move roles that the GSA says do not need to be conducted in Washington to federally owned sites in Idaho, Alabama and West Virginia.
The Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee requested the report in November after the agency put the project on pause.
A spokesman for Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the Republican chairman of the committee, said he had received the report and that the committee would discuss it at a hearing set for Feb. 28. Barrasso criticized the GSA in January, calling it “unacceptable” that the agency failed to meet the deadline it had set to finish the report.
Lobbying to bring the headquarters to Maryland had been a bipartisan effort.
“Obviously, this was a decision made solely by the federal government and the GSA,” said Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. “Maryland clearly had the best two sites for this potential relocation and the Hogan administration will continue to market them to the federal government and any business or organization interested in doing business in Maryland.”
Rep. Andy Harris, a Baltimore County Republican, said he was disappointed “the new FBI building will not be in Maryland,” but the $250 million in savings “will help the declining fiscal condition of the federal balance sheet after the just-passed budget deal that will balloon the federal deficit.”
By demolishing and rebuilding the FBI’s current headquarters, GSA estimates it can finish the job for $3.3 billion. The agency estimated that building in Maryland or Virginia would have cost $3.57 billion.
The move is likely to face criticism from Democrats who are concerned about how the Hoover building site interacts with President Donald J. Trump’s hotel, located a block away. When officials planned to move the agency, the company selected to build a new headquarters could have received development rights of the Hoover site. Both buildings are located in a pricey downtown neighborhood.
“This sudden and unexpected decision by the Trump administration raises serious questions about what or who could have motivated such a decision,” said Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Southern Maryland. “Why the Trump administration would so suddenly forgo years of study … is beyond astounding.”
Until last year, the GSA had been inching forward on the development, narrowing down the number of sites and collecting public input. In 2014, the agency said the project would be built at one of three locations: Greenbelt or Landover in Maryland, or Springfield, Va.
Plans for a new headquarters had found support from both sides of the aisle. But that has changed, at least in the House, where GOP lawmakers have begun to claw back money that had been set aside for the project. In the budget proposal unveiled Monday, the White House also called for canceling $250 million in money set aside for the project.
“It is outrageous that the Trump administration would abandon a decade of effort toward the full consolidation of the FBI headquarters,” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, also a Maryland Democrat, said in a statement. “Instead, they have put forward a hastilywritten plan that will take more time and will likely cost the taxpayers more money.”