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How big of a "moat" would the FBI need if it stayed downtown?

The FBI and the General Services Administration (GSA) are searching for a site to house a new consolidated FBI headquarters. Though no sites in DC remain in consideration, there are a few who wonder why they don't just reuse the existing Hoover Building site on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Photo by the author.

One of the strong preferences in the GSA's site location criteria is for a 350 foot "security buffer zone" surrounding the new headquarters building. Though this is apparently not an outright requirement, the GSA and FBI have said that they strongly prefer sites that can offer such a buffer.

The image above shows what such a 350 foot buffer zone would look like around the existing Hoover Building footprint.

As you can see, this would seriously impact buildings on almost every block adjacent to the Hoover Building. It would affect the IRS headquarters, the Justice Department, and especially the historic Ford's Theater. It would also have a minor impact on the Navy Memorial.

From a transportation perspective, it would block E Street, 9th Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue, all major streets in the DC core.

A version of this post originally appeared in Just Up the Hill.

Adam Froehlig, aka "Froggie," is a former US Navy GIS analyst and weather forecaster. He was stationed in the DC area and lived in Huntington from 2008-2012. He can now be seen roaming the hilly dirt roads of Vermont when he's not blogging at Just Up The Hill


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@ "From a transportation perspective, it would block E Street, 9th Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue, all major streets in the DC core."

Its funny that E St and Pennsylvania Avenue are both blocked by the White House "Security Buffer Zone". This closure definitely impedes traffic flow through downtown.

I recommended opening these streets up to all traffic again.

by jcp on Jul 30, 2014 2:39 pm • linkreport

Looks like an excellent candidate for one of those new metro stations out in Loudoun country. It could have it's 350ft buffer and no one would notice. Loudoun needs some employment centers....

by Richard on Jul 30, 2014 2:41 pm • linkreport

What about the large wasted Pentagon parking lots? Could that area be used with a garage built to replace the old parking?

by Pentagon Parking on Jul 30, 2014 2:49 pm • linkreport

And why again does the FBI need such a moat? I understand a degree of security and barriers, but really?

@jcp those street closures only impede traffic flow of cars; they enhance the traffic flow of pedestrians and bike riders, which are actually the dominant transportation modes downtown by number of people moved from block to block (not counting Metro), if not commuting.

by Greenbelt on Jul 30, 2014 2:51 pm • linkreport

The FBI wouldn't need that moat. "Want" and "need" are two different words.

by iaom on Jul 30, 2014 3:19 pm • linkreport

Are you rendering the moat moot? Now that's a hoot!

by The Truth™ on Jul 30, 2014 3:22 pm • linkreport

@The Truth - Pop any veelies...err...wheelies lately? ;-)

by Dave G on Jul 30, 2014 3:35 pm • linkreport

I tend to believe we tend to over-react when it comes to security and go well beyond what's needed. But, having said that, I'm also no security expert and I find it hard to criticize the FBI's desire to have such a moat. Really, what do I know? Besides, as long as they put crocs in their moat, I think it could be pretty awesome.

by jh on Jul 30, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

@Greenbelt, I suspect the answer is "well, you know, terrorists or something". Whether 350ft. is actually needed for a realistic scenario, whether the probability of such a scenario within the lifetime of the building (and FBI's occupation thereof) is high, and whether the level of protection provided by such a gap given said probability is worth all the myriad downsides of having it are questions I'd be curious to hear FBI's answers to. I imagine they'd involve a lot of mentions of a "post-9/11 world".

by TheOtherGlenmont on Jul 30, 2014 3:40 pm • linkreport

Maybe the FBI should go ahead and take over Ford's Theater. After all, much of their business is pointless security theater. Oh, wait, that's Homeland bad B-)

by Dave G on Jul 30, 2014 3:44 pm • linkreport

Homeland Security Theater...somehow that rings true.

by Dave G on Jul 30, 2014 3:45 pm • linkreport

@ Dave G

In fact, I did pop a most triumphant wheelie this morning, as I biked past the Washington Monument. Thank you for asking! George Washington was quite an accomplished statesman. The popped wheelie serves as my daily salute to the man, as I pass through the shadow of his namesake memorial.

I won't pop any official "veelies", as you say, until I take my bike on its maiden Silver Line voyage. ;-)

by The Truth™ on Jul 30, 2014 3:54 pm • linkreport

I imagine they'd involve a lot of mentions of a "post-9/11 world".

Post-Oklahoma City, actually. That's the real reason for the setback - fear of truck bombs.

by Dizzy on Jul 30, 2014 3:56 pm • linkreport

Instead of a full moat, could some in-road defenses be added to keep trucks off of some security perimeter surrounding the space?

by Pentagon Parking on Jul 30, 2014 4:00 pm • linkreport

Perhaps retrofitting the current location with some sort of impenetrable dome or force field would be cheaper in the long run. They could then remove the netting which keeps the birds away from the tower windows.

by The Truth™ on Jul 30, 2014 4:13 pm • linkreport

Under The Dome - the reality show!!!

by Dave G on Jul 30, 2014 4:23 pm • linkreport

That netting actually helps keep the building from falling apart. From Wikipedia:
"Additional problems also became apparent that same year. A piece of the concrete façade came loose and fell onto the sidewalk on busy Pennsylvania Avenue NW. A contractor was hired to remove loose concrete from the exterior. Construction netting was hung around the upper floors to prevent additional pieces of concrete from crashing to the ground."

by Pentagon Parking on Jul 30, 2014 4:24 pm • linkreport

Chill out, everyone. The moat is moot - the FBI will definitely be leaving downtown DC, anyway: Perhaps this should be mentioned in the article? Although it is an interesting thought experiment.

by Eric on Jul 30, 2014 4:25 pm • linkreport

Oops - it was mentioned. My bad. Still an interesting thought experiment.

by Eric on Jul 30, 2014 4:27 pm • linkreport

I'm glad this is being discussed. The amount of taxpayer money being spent on security theatre and pie-in-the-sky anti-terrorism measures is out of control. No one in the government is willing to speak out against this waste. Any expense considered security is approved without any second thought (well, except for higher wages for security guards).

I'm also concerned about the precedent such facilities set. I realize the FBI may be considered by some a sensitive agency, but what's to stop other agencies from declaring themselves sensitive and thus requiring the same ridiculous security measures?

by dcmike on Jul 30, 2014 5:03 pm • linkreport

Bill Smith mentioned if this goes in Greenbelt, wetlands could be impacted.
If the plan would involve cutting down a lot of mature forest in Greenbelt to make this "buffer" - yeah, put it in Landover or Springfield. Landover would be better for reducing car dependance.

by asffa on Jul 30, 2014 5:14 pm • linkreport

Why on earth would the Landover site be best for "reducing car dependance"? It's the furthest from Metro of the three!

by MLD on Jul 30, 2014 5:19 pm • linkreport

MLD One way to look at it - Greenbelt's not great without a car.
But about pushing for Greenbelt if the intention is to strip it to the ground - isn't urbanism somewhat about saving the earth, too?

by asffa on Jul 30, 2014 5:27 pm • linkreport

The reason for the size needed is straightforward. It's "standoff distance." Standoff distance is the only real defense against car|truck bombs. You can add mitigations but it's all really inverse-square law.

If you want to ask questions; the one to ask about is Mark Center and how the required standoff distance was totally ignored in building that building in such a vulnerable location.

by George B on Jul 30, 2014 9:02 pm • linkreport

@ George B re: Mark Center

biggest beneficiaries of Mark Center were Duke Realty and Clark Construction. Not a big leap to assume they lobbied/bribed (er... donated) to push the BRAC-133 (part of it anyways) consolidation to the Mark Center location.

Would not be first time policies have been side stepped for the benefit corporations/wealthy executives.

by Bill on Jul 30, 2014 9:30 pm • linkreport

Currently the only direct auto access to Greenbelt Metro from I-495 is from the Inner Beltway only, then back to the Outer Beltway. Would a full interchange be constructed? Otherwise the FBI wouldn't really have easy access to or from the Beltway.

by Dave G on Jul 30, 2014 11:04 pm • linkreport

They should stick it near the Branch Ave metro. Plenty of room down there and its right off the Beltway and near Virginia, where all of these FBI agents live anyway.

Or how about use some of the unused land at the Federal Center in Suitland. Its already a secure area, so you wouldnt even need the moat - you could wedge a Hoover sized building in a couple of places on that campus.

Of course reality is - weve had one major truck bombing in our history on our soil. Even overseas, the kind of truck bombs that are gonna do anything near OKC level damage are rare. So you can more or less safely ignore the threat and save yourself alot of money and time.

Overengineering for sure.

by TomA on Jul 31, 2014 1:43 am • linkreport


We already have one moat-within-a-moat in Suitland (i.e. ONI/NMIC). We don't need another.

by Froggie on Jul 31, 2014 7:30 am • linkreport

The fence around Suitland wasn't for terrorist security type risks. My understanding is a barbed wire fence was erected many years ago because vehicle thefts and muggings occuring in the parking lots. Several years ago, it was replaced with the black fence because, I assume, it looks better and there was some community compmlaints about the barbed wire and that the complex looked like a prison.

If the feds aren't going to use the rest of that land for another HQ, it would be nice to see the fence removed and a mixed use development appear on the surface parking lots. Navy can keep their secure fence. Or, still allow Census to have a fence, but push it back and open up a lot of that space for use. I know that won't happen, though. At least not anytime soon.

by jh on Jul 31, 2014 8:30 am • linkreport

Interesting. I didn't realize people had a beef with the Suitland moat motif.

by The Truth™ on Jul 31, 2014 8:32 am • linkreport


I'm hearing a lot of people stating that "most" FBI employees live in VA, or "all" of the highest paid employees live in VA and the lower staff positions live in DC and MD. Is this just conjecture? I fail to see how the private address of employees that work at a secure federal agency are somehow common public knowledge. If that's the case, the security measures are moot if the public knows where each employee lives.

What source are people deriving these statistics from?

by adelphi_sky on Jul 31, 2014 9:38 am • linkreport

And why again does the FBI need such a moat? I understand a degree of security and barriers, but really?

Perhaps you are unfamiliar with this.

by David C on Aug 1, 2014 10:00 am • linkreport

Too bad a controlled implosion of the FBI building, after the FBI moves out, is out of the question due to the neighboring tall buildings. Or is it?

Down with Brutalism!! :-D

by Dave G on Aug 1, 2014 10:45 am • linkreport

You don't get people truck-bombing your HQ unless they have some pretty serious grievances.

A respected government doesn't need to hide itself away from its citizens; a hated dictator does.

If the FBI thinks they need this, maybe they should look into their own history (J Edgar Hoover, etc.) and think about what it is they *really* need to do. Fat chance, I know...

by Nathanael on Aug 3, 2014 5:38 am • linkreport

Nathanael - people shoot up elementary schools in this country. Clearly, some people are always angry.

by asffa on Aug 3, 2014 12:35 pm • linkreport

The Bureau has always been jealous of the campus at Langley. They want what CIA has, in as nice of a location as the Agency. It won't happen though.

by uatu on Aug 16, 2014 2:58 am • linkreport

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