Money and Democracy

Published — January 7, 2016

Federal Election Commission may vacate headquarters

Agency’s lease expires in 2017, could move to new facility — even one outside D.C.


The nation’s federal campaign and election regulator could soon have a new address — and it wouldn’t necessarily be in Washington, D.C.

Federal Election Commission officials confirmed to the Center for Public Integrity that a move appears increasingly likely since a real estate investment group controlled by Jordache Enterprises — best known for its designer jeans — purchased the agency’s headquarters building last year.

The FEC’s lease expires in September 2017; the stately, nine-story structure the commission occupies sits atop prime real estate at 999 E St. Northwest near Washington, D.C.’s burgeoning Gallery Place-Chinatown district.

Short-term, moving to a new building could create yet more inconvenience and tumult for the agency, which is already struggling with internal ideological battles and low employee morale. Long-term, however, a new facility could upgrade employees’ office environment and save taxpayers money.

“My gut tells me that the FEC, they’re going to go, but I can’t tell you exactly whether they’re going to stay or going to go,” said Jonathan Bennett of Jordache Enterprises’ Nakash Holdings.

FEC commissioners aren’t sure, either.

“It’s up in the air. There are still several shoes left to drop,” said FEC Chairman Matthew Petersen, a Republican.

Democratic Commissioner Ann Ravel, whose tenure as agency chairperson ended last week, said it’s “less likely” that the FEC will stay put and “more likely” it’ll move to a yet-to-be-determined location.

This much is certain: the FEC’s current headquarters is one pricey piece of property.

Jordache Enterprises, which owns several dozen hotel, resort, residential and office properties, purchased the FEC’s headquarters building for $83.5 million, according to District of Columbia property records.

In 2015, the District’s Office of Tax and Revenue valued 999 E St. NW at $77,100,800.

“The building — we love it. We love the location, the proximity to the Smithsonian, it’s all great,” Bennett said.

Created in 1975, the FEC has operated out of its current building since 1985. Before that, a building at 1325 K St. NW in Washington, D.C., housed the agency’s operations.

The federal government’s General Services Administration is responsible for negotiating with Jordache Enterprises and its development partner, Douglas Development Corp.

If lease negotiations fail, the GSA must secure alternate office space for the FEC, whose roughly 350 employees enforce and administer the nation’s federal election laws or support such efforts.

A headquarters move could mean the FEC — like its neighbor across E Street, the FBI — ditches its downtown digs for a location in Virginia or Maryland, far outside Washington, D.C.’s core.

It’s also entirely possible the FEC could move elsewhere within the District of Columbia, which appears to be GSA’s preference.

The GSA recently published a “presolicitation” notice indicating it’s seeking between 87,000 square feet and 105,000 square feet of space to lease at a building that’s within the District of Columbia and a half mile of a Metrorail train station. A formal request for proposals is forthcoming.

The FEC today leases nearly 137,000 square feet, and GSA records indicate its current annual rent is about $5.35 million.

“Currently, it is premature to provide information pertaining to … the movement of their headquarters,” GSA spokeswoman Kamara Jones said.

Securing federal government office space isn’t cheap.

For example, taxpayers have already funded $5 million in “lease expiration and replacement lease expenses” related to the FEC’s headquarters.

But Republican FEC Commissioner Lee Goodman says finding a new headquarters could provide long-term benefits, both in terms of lower costs and improved working conditions.

Goodman described the FEC’s current office space as “dingy,” even “junky” in places, with “needlessly wide hallways and large offices from a different era.”

A modern office “would boost morale of the people who work here,” said Goodman, adding that federal officials involved with the potential move tell him they’re hoping to identify suitable space “within a five or six block radius of our current location.”

Ravel agreed: “In many ways, our building doesn’t serve our purposes.”

Republican FEC Commissioner Caroline Hunter says she’d prefer the FEC stay in its current building, particularly given its attractive location and proximity to public transit stations. If not, “I hope that we can stay in Washington, because I think that’s best for the members of the public that come in to meet with us,” Hunter said.

The 999 E St. NW building houses just one other tenant beside the FEC: a street-level Hard Rock Cafe.

Hard Rock Cafe spokeswoman Amanda Early said the restaurant chain “does not have an update to share” about the future of its Washington, D.C., location, although Bennett from Jordache Enterprises called the music-themed restaurant a “great tenant.”

Were the FEC to occupy its current address past 2017, Bennett said his company “would definitely improve” the interior — something Goodman insisted is essential.

In the meantime, expect negotiations between the federal government and Jordache Enterprises to begin soon but last throughout the year.

“There isn’t a sense of urgency yet on anyone’s part,” Bennett said.

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