The moves will take place regardless of what the future holds for the bureau’s Washington headquarters.
The FBI plans to relocate about 1,500 employees and contractors to Alabama by the end of next year with possibly more to follow, according to bureau officials. The moves are independent of plans to update the bureau’s headquarters in Washington.
Almost a dozen FBI divisions and offices, which the agency declined to specify, will move to Redstone Arsenal, an Army installation in Huntsville, under plans spearheaded by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the powerful chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
While Senate Republicans, at the request of the White House, included $1.75 billion for renovating the dilapidated and overcrowded FBI headquarters in their proposed $1 trillion stimulus package last month, Democrats oppose the funding. Even if Congress were to approve the headquarters upgrade, the relocations would still take place, an FBI official told Government Executive.
“You’ve got the manpower here. You’ve got the brain trust and you’ve got the security of the arsenal,” Shelby told the online publication Al.com at an event in Huntsville last year. “I’m bullish on the FBI here. I think it will be one of the biggest presences for the FBI outside of Washington.” The senator has secured $1.1 billion in funding over the past four years for the initiative, The Washington Post reported on August 4.
The relocated employees will include individuals transferred from headquarters and new hires.
Construction of the largest facility, the Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center, is expected to be completed in 2021. It will include an operations support building to house up to 1,400 employees and contractors, a building for network operations and enterprise security, and a commons building with a gym and other amenities.
An innovation center for cyber-focused training is planned to be ready by late 2023 or early 2024, depending on appropriations. More than the initial 1,500 personnel could be relocated, depending on negotiations between Congress and the administration and future funding, the FBI said.
The FBI’s cramped, outdated headquarters office in downtown Washington has long been a source of frustration for the bureau, which had planned to move to a new facility in the Washington suburbs before President Trump took office. But in July 2017, the Trump administration scrapped a decade-long plan to relocate the headquarters. Democratic lawmakers accused the administration of wanting to keep the bureau in its current location near the Trump International Hotel to prevent commercial developers from constructing a new property on the site that would compete with the hotel.
An August 2018 investigation by the General Services Administration’s inspector general on the administration’s proposal to update the building raised questions about the White House role in the decision. The Justice Department IG subsequently initiated its own investigation, which is still underway, according to the Post.
Democratic lawmakers in the Washington metropolitan area have been highly critical of the scrapped plans and they were further outraged when Senate Republicans included funding for renovating the FBI building in the stimulus package meant to address the ongoing pandemic and recession.
“The plan to move certain FBI employees to Alabama predates President Trump’s erratic decision related to the FBI headquarters,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. “I continue to be concerned about the president throwing away years of work—and millions of dollars—that have gone into selecting a location for a new FBI HQ, and by his attempt to sneak funding to renovate the existing location into the pandemic relief package.”
He added that Trump “doesn’t have a sound strategy here, and the men and women of the FBI deserve better.”
A spokesperson for Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., also emphasized the need for a new and technologically advanced FBI headquarters. “Moving some employees to alternate locations, does not negate the imperative for a consolidated, secure, modern headquarters in the National Capital Region,” said the spokesperson. “The Alabama movements were in the works prior to the Trump administration derailing efforts for a new headquarters, so it was never intended as a replacement. To that end, the numbers currently being discussed would not change the structural and security inadequacies of a downtown location.”
Similarly, a spokesperson for Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said the senator “believes we still need a new Washington Capital-area FBI HQ at a new site in the region [and] will continue to push for a new facility in the area.”
Shelby’s office did not respond to Government Executive for comment.