On July 11, the General Services Administration (GSA) announced that it had called off procurement for a new headquarters for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI has been looking for a new facility to replace the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, DC.
If you are looking for a project that highlighted Federal Government dysfunction, this would be a strong candidate. The search has been ongoing for more than ten years, and it has been three years since finalists in suburban Maryland and Virginia were announced.
Paying for the new facility hinged on swapping for the site of the Hoover Building, but it is doubtful that the value of that land would equal the cost of a new facility in the Washington area. Furthermore, even if the deal worked as intended, taxpayers have already contributed hundreds of millions of dollars over the past few years to the search, and the searchers wanted more.
The GSA stated, “The cancellation of the project does not lessen the need for a new FBI headquarters.” It is true that the Hoover Building is in poor shape, and many FBI employees are housed in expensive rented space elsewhere, but an expensive new facility inside or near the Beltway perhaps costing the taxpayers billions probably isn’t the right answer.
I do not believe the Bureau needs a glittering new facility in one of the country’s most expensive metropolitan areas. The search for a headquarters can be a time for creative thinking. There are ways for the FBI to meet its need for a new facility while also saving taxpayers money and bringing its employees closer to the public they serve.
While the FBI needs a presence in Washington, why not relocate its main headquarters to another part of the country? The Bureau could find a place with cheaper land, removed from a busy urban setting, but still accessible. It already houses its Criminal Justice Information Services Division in just such a location, Clarksburg, West Virginia. I would propose for headquarters Pulaski County or Martinsville.
For example, Pulaski County is removed from Washington, but only by a few hours of driving. It has the New River Valley Airport, a facility which supports international commercial freight and could be easily adapted for traveling to and from the headquarters. But even if the adaptation proved impractical, there is always the Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport, which in travel time is closer to Pulaski than Dulles is to DC.
Martinsville has a lot of available office space, many of the same advantages that Pulaski has with the exception of a long runway, and is not too far from Roanoke’s or Greensboro’s Piedmont Triangle Airports
Modern computer technology has made it effective to have many headquarters activities located in more affordable locales. And an email from the White House doesn’t take any longer if sent from Pulaski or Martinsville than if sent from down Pennsylvania Avenue. The FBI can continue to do its important work at headquarters in a more cost-effective fashion.
Other agencies can afford to be downsized as well. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has about 15,000 employees. According to the EPA’s website, the headquarters in Washington houses over 5,000 people, and 1,500 more work at another headquarters facility in nearby Arlington, meaning almost half the agency’s workforce is located within the capital’s metropolitan area. Some of them even work from home, thanks to modern technology which allows them to telecommute.
I doubt the environment benefits much from thousands of bureaucrats pushing around paper in expensive Washington air-conditioned office space. Some of those positions could surely be eliminated, and others moved away from the capital and into the field. There, in addition to saving taxpayers money, they could see conditions on the ground, consider the impact of regulations that have already been implemented, and determine if any changes might be needed.
The Trump Administration recognized that the FBI procurement process was a bad deal for taxpayers. The proposals above should at least give people something to think about as the Administration and Congress look for a better deal, not just on the FBI building but across government. Savings, downsizing, and reorganization would lead to a government that better serves the people. Some creative thinking can save money for taxpayers and ensure that the core functions of government are carried out properly.