It's practically useless! (GAO)

The brutalist, 36-year-old J. Edgar Hoover building, which houses the Federal Bureau of Investigation headquarters in an entire block on Pennsylvania Avenue, has long been maligned as downtown D.C.’s ugliest edifice. Demolishing it, though, would be so costly that the federal government hasn’t even been able to consider it.

It appears, however, that conditions inside are even worse—-so much so, in fact, that the feds are finally pushing towards a solution. A Government Accountability Office report issued yesterday rounds up the studies and assessments done over the last decade, detailing all the reasons why the 2.4 million-square-foot FBI building is “functionally obsolete.” Because of a large internal courtyard, deep spaces into which natural light can’t penetrate, and excessively long corridors, the “space efficiency ratio” of gross to usable square feet is an abysmal 53 percent. Then there’s the $80 million or so in deferred maintenance; the report includes a photo of recycling cans catching water leaking from the ceiling.

Meanwhile, the FBI’s staffing needs have grown. The bureau is now spread across 40 buildings, 22 of which are in the National Capital Region, costing $170 million in rent annually. All that fragmentation forces quite a bit of unnecessary travel to and fro, making coordination much more difficult than it should be for the agency that’s supposed to keep us all safe. And the FBI’s fed up!

“The FBI cannot afford to continue the status quo, from an operational effectiveness or a fiscal stewardship perspective,” wrote Associate Deputy Director T.J. Harrington in his response to the report. “A new consolidated FBI headquarters facility is urgently needed and we view this as one of our highest priorities for the foreseeable future.”

The question is what to do next. The General Services Administration has reclassified the building as “transitional,” meaning that it will do only minimal maintenance while new space alternatives are explored. One thing’s for sure: In the current fiscal environment, a full-blown modernization, which would apparently cost $1.7 billion and take 14 years to complete, is probably out of the question. That leaves the option of demolishing the current building and constructing a new one on the current site, which would cost $850 million and take nine years, or consolidating all the FBI’s operations at a new location, which would require 50 acres and cost about $1.2 billion.

There’s probably no money on the table for any of this until 2014, though—-the GSA has been forced to scotch renovations on its own headquarters in D.C.—-and the report forecasts that the soonest anything could happen is 2020. Which, in federal government time, isn’t actually that bad.