February 28, 2018

Cardin and Van Hollen Lead Push for Answers from FBI, GSA on Changes to the Headquarters Project

U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen (both D-Md.) today used their positions on the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee to demand answers from senior officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and General Services Administration (GSA) with specific questions on the recent, wholesale change of direction for a newly consolidated FBI headquarters that would replace the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover Building. At the EPW hearing, Cardin and Van Hollen pressed the agencies to explain to the American people how keeping the FBI at the Hoover Building suddenly meets the needs of the FBI, despite failing to meet nearly every security requirement as outlined by the FBI and GSA for more than a decade.

Senator Cardin: "I know the urgency of this. The FBI desperately needs new facilities. But it's been the agencies that have delayed this for 12 years - 12 years, hundreds of millions of dollars wasted. And now we find out about this information through press accounts. We still don't have adequate information to move forward. We certainly have not delayed this. For the men and women who work at the FBI, for the people in this nation who depend on their work, this has been a major mishandling by the agencies for them to have adequate facilities for them to carry out their responsibilities."

Senator Van Hollen: "This is a textbook example of how the Federal Government should not operate over a period of time. It is an example that people will use for decades to come about how the Federal Government misled people from start to finish; failed to provide information to the Congress when requested; and constantly changed its assessment of what was required for the FBI. People who were bidding on these projects invested lots of money, Mr. Chairman, in proposals, only to see whiplash when the FBI totally changed its testimony and the GSA totally changed its position on this," said Senator Van Hollen. "There are GAO reports from years ago analyzing all the options -- including the option that you're proposing here today to demolish the current building and rebuild. There have been hearings in the House and Senate on this issue for years, and the testimony is all there on the record... representatives from the GSA and FBI have made statements repeatedly on the record that are totally at odds with the position that these agencies are taking today."

Both FBI and GSA refused to answer repeated questions about whether President Trump, who would benefit financially from not having a new commercial property across from the Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, was party to conversations about this project either before or after the decision to scale back the new FBI HQ.

Senator Cardin: "Who was in the room when this decision was made? I assume GSA was in the room. I assume FBI was in the room. Who else was in the room that decided we were going to rebuild the Hoover building and not go to a campus facility? ... Who was involved in making the decision? ... No input from the White House?"

Senator Van Hollen: "I understand that you were not talking to the President of the United States about this. I'm asking about whether you are aware of any conversations that anyone in the Administration had with the President of the United States about this project... Just for the record, neither witness answered the question, Mr. Chairman. I think it's pretty clear."

The senators also pressed for full disclosure of how taxpayer dollars would be used for this new smaller-sized GSA plan when it was noted in the hearing that GSA had failed to include the full cost of temporary space needed to house thousands of FBI agents and staff during the demolition and rebuilding of the Hoover building - temporary rental space that would not be needed if the FBI built its new headquarters at a more secure location in either Maryland or Virginia. Overall, the FBI and GSA were inadequate in explaining how this new, smaller project would not wind up costing more and be less secure than a campus project that has been the preferred concept for more than a decade.

Full video of the hearing can be found through C-SPAN here. Click on images above for video downlinks.