Congress Awaits IG Report on Cancellation of FBI Headquarters Move

The FBI headquarters (the tan modern building in the distance, left) sits across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Trump International Hotel (the building with the clock tower). Photo by Heather Kim/Capital News Service.
By Julianne Heberlein
With parts of the FBI headquarters building crumbling on Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., there had been plans to relocate the agency to a more secluded and spacious campus in either suburban Maryland or Northern Virginia.

But six months after President Trump took office, his administration decided to not move forward with the relocation, opting to keep the old building, which was built in the 1970s, across the street from the Trump International Hotel.

“The president wanted to save the government money and also the FBI leadership did not want to move its headquarters,” the White House said in a statement at the time.

Congress is still waiting to see if an independent review by Michael Horowitz, the Department of Justice inspector general, finds that the cancellation of the FBI headquarters relocation plan was justified.

Renovating the J. Edgar Hoover Building in its current location would cost hundreds of millions of dollars more than the relocation plan, according to a 2018 General Services Administration report. It would also accommodate 2,306 fewer employees.

Now, the DOJ’s inspector general is investigating the planning process and decision to keep the building in its current location, as requested by Congress.

“The review will include an examination of DOJ’s and the FBI’s progress in its planning, their assessment and consideration of the previously proposed plan, to move FBI Headquarters to a suburban location, and their assessment and consideration of their plan to demolish the J. Edgar Hoover Building and construct a new facility on that site,” the inspector general wrote in a July letter addressed to Democratic House committee leaders in response to their request.

Horowitz did not specify a timeline for the review to be completed and that review is ongoing, said spokeswoman Stephanie Logan.

Maryland lawmakers, who had spent years advocating to move the FBI to one of two locations in the D.C. suburbs, are still fuming about the Trump administration’s decision.

“First, the president made the deeply misguided, 11th-hour decision to pull the plug on a fully-consolidated and secure FBI headquarters without a reasonable explanation,” U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told Capital News Service.

“Then, they deliberately misled me in their testimony before Congress on the issue,” he added. “This is simply unacceptable, and the inspector general’s office must get to the truth behind this troubling action with a sense of urgency. I will keep fighting to get all the facts and to ensure the FBI has a headquarters that meets their needs.”

Four Democratic House committee and subcommittee leaders have welcomed the inspector general’s review. However, Congress has not been updated on the review’s timeline.

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee continues to receive documents from the FBI pursuant to their March 2019 committee request, said committee spokesperson Bayley Sandy. But the committee has not received further updates on when the review will be completed.

Some Democrats on the House Oversight and Reform Committee and the transportation panel have speculated that moving the FBI headquarters from Pennsylvania Avenue would open up real estate for competition with Trump’s hotel.

The late Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who was chairman of the oversight panel, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chairman of the transportation panel, along with Reps. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.), authored the May letter to the inspector general, alleging Trump’s self-serving motives behind the decision.

“Many years before becoming president, Donald Trump expressed interest in the FBI headquarters moving out of Washington, D.C., so he could acquire the land on Pennsylvania Avenue and redevelop the property, which is directly across the street from the Trump International Hotel,” they wrote.

“However, after he was sworn in as president and became ineligible as a federal employee to obtain the property, he reportedly became ‘dead opposed’ to the government selling the property, which would have allowed commercial developers to compete directly with the Trump Hotel.”

General Services Administration Administrator Emily Murphy downplayed the White House’s role in the decision during her congressional testimony in March.

She said that FBI Director Christopher Wray, not the president, asked that the FBI headquarters remain downtown.

“Given the intense interest in the proposed location, I want to be clear, I stand by my testimony that the senior leadership of the FBI made the decision to remain at the current Pennsylvania Avenue location,” Murphy said.

After the GSA spent years developing a relocation plan, the agency decided to consolidate the FBI’s headquarters operations and numerous other leased facilities into one location on a suburban campus in either Greenbelt or Landover or in Springfield, Va.

The plan would have allowed the Pennsylvania Avenue space to be redeveloped by the private sector.