July 29, 2020

FBI Building Drama in the HEALS Act

COVID-19

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FBI Building Drama (HEALS Act)

Something making headlines right now is the drama about the fact that in the HEALS Act there is a proposal to construct a new building to serve as the FBI headquarters.

Don’t want to read? Watch the video here!

The HEALS Act is really a conglomeration of several separate bills, and there’s one bill that makes up the HEALS Act called the Coronavirus Response Additional Supplemental Appropriations Act 2020 and on page 11 of this bill it talks about appropriations to the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for $1.75 billion for the design and construction of a Washington, DC headquarters facility for the FBI.

You might look at this and think, OK, what does this have to do with coronavirus, and you’d be right, even many Republicans are saying, what the heck.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said, “I don’t know — that makes no sense to me.  I’d be fine with stripping it out.”

In fact, Mitch McConnell, when asked about the fact that this funding was in the bill, didn’t think it was in the bill, until reporters convinced him that it was.  McConnell then told reporters they’d have to ask the White House about the plan, thereby distancing himself from it.

So it seems that this inclusion in the HEALS Act was at the behest of the White House rather than Congressional Republicans.

Democrats have not hesitated to criticize the president for this inclusion, jumping to the conclusion that putting this funding for a new FBI headquarters into the bill is a ploy by the Trump for self-gain.

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that the Republicans “don’t have money for food stamps, but they have money for an FBI building just so that they can diminish competition for the president’s hotel.”

And the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, said, “They managed to have enough money for $2 billion for the FBI headquarters that benefits Trump hotel and they say they have no money for food assistance.  What the heck is going on?”

Now, where do these statements come from?  They come from the fact that in 2013 Donald Trump expressed interest in purchasing the current FBI headquarters building at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue, which is a block away from his Trump International Hotel at 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue.

At that time, there was a plan being bandied around D.C. which would allow for the FBI building to be destroyed and replaced by a commercial development, with the developer being permitted to construct a new FBI headquarters somewhere in the D.C. suburbs.

But then after Trump took office, he actually blocked a pre-existing plan to move the FBI headquarters to somewhere in the D.C. suburbs.  This decision is currently the target of an ongoing Justice Department investigation, the results of which are yet to be seen.

And last week Trump said that the current FBI headquarters should be demolished and a new headquarters constructed on the existing site rather than moving it to the DC suburbs, presumably so that the FBI headquarters would remain near the Department of Justice because the current FBI headquarters is right across the street from the Department of Justice.

And even the FBI Director Christopher Wray said that he wanted the FBI headquarters to remain downtown, of course Wray was a Trump appointee.

So Democrats are saying, “Look, Trump doesn’t want the FBI headquarters to move to the suburbs because he doesn’t want some other hotel developer to come in and be able to knock down the current headquarters and put a hotel there to compete with his Trump International Hotel down the street.”

But here’s the situation, the FBI headquarters is actually run-down and apparently its design is not conducive to efficient collaboration on sensitive matters.

The current FBI building is called the J. Edgar Hoover Building, named for the first FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, it’s not an old building, construction finished in 1975, and you might say, “OK, what the heck, why does the FBI need a new building if their current building is only 45 years old?”

Well, back in November 2011, before you or I even knew the word coronavirus, before Obama had even been elected to his second term, when the notion of a Trump presidency would have seemed incredibly far-fetched, and before 2013 when Trump expressed an interest in the building, so back in November 2011 the GAO, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report called “Federal Bureau of Investigation: Actions Needed to Document Security Decisions and Address Issues with Condition of Headquarters Buildings”.

In this document the GAO stated they found that the FBI’s headquarters facilities — the Hoover Building and the headquarters annexes — do not fully support the FBI’s long-term security, space, and building condition requirements, that The Hoover Building’s original design is inefficient, making it difficult to reconfigure space to promote staff collaboration which could hamper collaboration and the performance of some classified work.  It also said the condition of the Hoover Building is deteriorating, I’m not going to go through that entire report, here’s the link if you want to check it out.

And just this month, representatives at the FBI confirmed that there is a need for a new FBI headquarters facility.

fbi building gao report heals act

And if you look at the language of the bill, it doesn’t say that the headquarters has to remain at its current location. It does say Washington DC, which probably means it wants to exclude it from moving to the suburbs.

OK so just to be clear, I’m not defending this push by Trump and the White House to put this funding for a new FBI headquarters in the bill right now, I think this is probably something that could be done after the coronavirus crisis in this country is in the rearview mirror, but the fact is that the current FBI headquarters is not the best structure to house one of our nation’s most important agencies, and I think it’s a little bit unfair by Pelosi and Schumer to simply characterize this push in the light of Trump attempting to advance his own business interests.

I don’t hold very strongly to this position, and I think that there’s room for reasonable disagreement here, but I just wanted to lay out what the situation is from both sides with respect to this small aspect of the HEALS Act because I’m sure you’re going to see a lot of articles about it.

Logan Allec, CPA

Logan is a practicing CPA, Certified Student Loan Professional, and founder of Money Done Right, which he launched in July 2017. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.

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