Cliff Owen / AP file photo

Senate GOP’s Coronavirus Relief Package Would Fund Controversial Plan to Rebuild FBI Headquarters in D.C.

The Trump administration in 2017 scrapped a decade-long plan to reconstruct the facility in the Washington suburbs. 

The Senate Republicans’ proposed coronavirus relief package released on Monday evening would grant the Trump administration funding to construct a new FBI headquarters building in Washington, D.C., which has long been the administration’s controversial goal. 

The Senate GOP’s approximately $1 trillion stimulus package includes $1.75 billion to help the FBI “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally,” through the reconstruction of its headquarters, said the bill’s text. The proposal specifies that the new facility would be located in Washington, D.C.

The administration in July 2017 scrapped a decade-long plan to relocate the old and decaying headquarters to the Washington suburbs, angering Democratic lawmakers who accused the administration of wanting to keep the bureau in its downtown location near the Trump International Hotel to prevent commercial developers from constructing a new property on the headquarters site that would compete with the hotel.  The Washington Post reported on July 18 that the administration was trying to use the relief package to obtain funding for reconstructing the headquarters in D.C. instead of the suburbs.  

After the administration ended the years-long plan to relocate the FBI building to Maryland or Virginia, the General Services Administration, which oversees all federal property, released a proposal in February 2018 to update the building that would hold fewer employees upon renovation.  Later that year, the GSA inspector general found that building a new headquarters in D.C. would cost more than relocation and GSA Administrator Emily Murphy “may have left the misleading impression that she had no discussions with White House officials in the decision making process about the project.” 

Then in October 2018, newly released emails and photos suggested that Trump himself directed GSA to modify the plan for the new headquarters. The Justice Department inspector general launched its own investigation in July 2019 into the canceled plan and that review is still ongoing, The Washington Post reported

After they released the bill, top Senate Republicans distanced themselves from the provision, The Washington Post reported. “You’ll have to ask [the White House] why they insisted that be included,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., during a press conference. 

When asked what the funding had to do with the pandemic, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said “good question.” He added that the FBI needs a new building because the current one is not safe and some provisions in the bill had to “stretch the link” to the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, Democrats criticized the entire legislative package and some, including leadership, condemned the FBI provision specifically. 

“More than 150,000 Americans have died from coronavirus, millions are unemployed, state and local governments are struggling to stay afloat, and Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump are more concerned about protecting Trump Hotel,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations, told Government Executive on Tuesday. “That is shameful.” 

Similarly, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., called the situation a “blatantly self-dealing move” and said the funding for the new building “has no business” being included in the next pandemic relief package. 

“The Congress spent years working on a bipartisan basis toward a new FBI building and campus that–unlike the current building and location–would meet the operational and security needs of the agency,” he told Government Executive. “Despite significant progress toward this goal, President Trump pulled the plug on the plan and to date has not offered a clear rationale on the decision or a detailed plan to move forward.”