The federal government is offering to swap two vacant buildings in Washington, D.C., in exchange for renovation work on the main headquarters for the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) and the next home of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Yesterday, the federal government issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ), in a search for developers to take on two buildings, the GSA Regional Office Building and Cotton Annex, in Southwest D.C. The trade proposal is part of an effort to downsize and move 1,500 staff from the Regional Office Building into the GSA headquarters. The GSA also seeks renovation work for the St. Elizabeths Campus in the Anacostia neighborhood of D.C., where DHS is relocating.

A rendering of the new GSA headquarters
GSA A rendering of the new GSA headquarters

Last year, the U.S. Court Guard headquarters was completed with designs by Chicago-based Perkins+Will, which marked the first phase in the construction of the complex. Now, GSA is ready to continue building its campus. According to the RFQ, the work needed on the building includes infrastructure improvements, relocation services, and the specification of furniture, information technology, and audio–visual equipment. With 4.5 million square feet of work space and 1.5 million square feet of parking, the new headquarters will be the largest construction project in the metropolitan area since the Pentagon was built. It will also be the largest construction project in GSA history.

The renovations are part of a drastic restructuring of GSA offices, headed by GSA administrator Dan Tangherlini, who has been urging employees to step away from their desks and work outside the office. After dropping six leases, Tangherlini claims that the GSA has saved $24 million. These changes are chipping away at the bureaucratic design approach to federal offices of the past and could be the start of a new federal culture, according to The Washington Post reporter Lisa Rein.

The property-for-services swap would also stipulate the modernization of up to three historic buildings on St. Elizabeths West Campus and a portion of the North Parcel at St. Elizabeths East Campus National Historic Landmark. The necessary renovations at St. Elizabeths include the same work needed at the GSA headquarters.

The Gateway Pavilion opened last fall at St. Elizabeths in an effort attract nearby residents and Coast Guard employees to the area by to enticing retailers with free rent. The $8.3-million project was designed by Davis Brody Bond, a firm based in New York, but also operates out of an office in D.C. The Gateway Pavilion furthers the city's plans to redesign the hospital campus into a mixed-use development. 

If there is additional value from the GSA Regional Office and the Cotton Annex that exceeds the value of the construction services required at the GSA headquarters and the buildings at St. Elizabeths, GSA wants a cash equalization payment.

In 2012, the GSA issued a Request for Information (RFI), inviting ideas from developers for the improvement of Federal Triangle South, an area dominated by older federal offices that are driving high operating costs and feature a backlog of necessary repairs. Federal Triangle South includes the two properties the government wants to trade, along with office buildings for the Federal Aviation Administration building and the Department of Energy.

“The Federal Triangle South project is an opportunity to reexamine how the federal government uses these buildings and reassess how this space fits into the surrounding community,” Tangherlini said in a press release. “This action will facilitate the city’s efforts to transform this precinct that is dominated by federal office buildings, into a mixed-use neighborhood that will both provide for a modern workplace for federal employees and create a vibrant, diverse, and special community of its own.”

Proposals from developers are due May 22, then the GSA will invite short-listed respondents to submit a more detailed proposal by the fall. The agency hopes to have a development agreement by next spring or summer.