United States District Court, District of Columbia
CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND ETHICS IN WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES GENERAL SERVICES ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
structures in Washington D.C. are more maligned than the J.
Edgar Hoover FBI building. Architecture critics pan its
brutalist design, D.C. denizens bemoan its uninviting
presence on Pennsylvania Avenue, and, most relevant to this
case, the FBI itself considers it too small and unsafe to
continue to function as the bureau's headquarters. For
the better part of a decade, the General Services
Administration (“GSA”)-the federal agency
responsible for acquiring and maintaining government
facilities-has been exploring relocation and renovation
options. Until last year, one proposal appeared likely to
materialize: the FBI would offer the Hoover Building (and
cash) to a real estate firm that would, in return, lead the
construction of a new headquarters elsewhere in the region.
GSA identified three potential building sites and began
soliciting proposals from developers. But those efforts came
to an abrupt halt in July 2017, and in early 2018, the FBI
announced that it planned instead to rebuild its headquarters
at the present location.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
(“CREW”) wants an explanation for GSA's
about-face. Among other concerns, CREW suspects that
President Trump put the kibosh on the swap-relocation plan
because he feared that commercial development at the Hoover
Building site might compete with the neighboring Trump
International Hotel. To substantiate its suspicions, CREW
filed a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”)
request with GSA. It sought records explaining the decision
to abort the swap-relocation plan and related communications
between GSA brass and other government officials, including
the White House. The agency has responded to that request and
claims it is now entitled to summary judgment. CREW opposes,
objecting to the adequacy of GSA's search and the
propriety of its withholdings. For the reasons that follow,
the Court largely agrees with CREW and will deny GSA's
motion for summary judgment.
last several years, GSA has been on the hunt for a new FBI
headquarters-one that could accommodate a consolidation of
the FBI workforce and provide beefed-up security. Compl.
¶ 6. After publicizing a proposal that would involve the
FBI swapping its current home, the J. Edgar Hoover building
on Pennsylvania Avenue, in exchange for a newly built one in
either Maryland or Virginia, id., GSA announced on
July 11, 2017 that it was cancelling the “new FBI
headquarters consolidation project, ” id.
¶ 7 (quoting GSA Statement on FBI Headquarters, July 11,
2017). Questions immediately arose as to why
GSA had abandoned the project. Id. ¶ 8;
see, e.g., Jonathan O'Connell, Robert McCartney
& Jenna Portnoy, Fallout from FBI Headquarters
Decision Leaves Losers All Around, Wash. Post, July 11,
very next day, on July 12, 2017, CREW joined the chorus of
inquisitors. It submitted a FOIA request to GSA seeking the
following six categories of records:
• “copies of all records from January 20, 2017 to
the present explaining the decision of GSA, announced on July
11, 2017, to cancel the procurement for the new FBI
headquarters consolidation project. This request includes,
but is not limited to, records from GSA Public Buildings
Service, GSA Office of the Administrator, and the National
• “copies of communications between GSA Regional
Commissioner Mary Gibert and GSA Administrator Tim Horne from
January 20, 2017 to the present concerning GSA's decision
to cancel the procurement for the new FBI headquarters
• “copies of email communications between either
Mary Gibert and Tim Horne and any individual at the eop.gov
domain from January 20, 2017 to the present concerning
GSA's decision to cancel the procurement for the new FBI
headquarters consolidation project”;
• “copies of communications between FBI officials
and GSA concerning GSA's decision to cancel the
procurement for the new FBI headquarters consolidation
• “copies of communications between the Office of
Management and Budget and GSA concerning GSA's decision
to cancel the procurement for the new FBI headquarters
consolidation project”; and
• “copies of records sufficient to show the amount
of federal funds expended to evaluate the final three
locations designated by GSA as possible sites for the new FBI
headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia and Prince George's
CREW's FOIA Request, ECF No. 16-2, Ex. A.
determined that GSA's Office of the Chief Information
Officer (“OCIO”) was the office most likely to
have records responsive to CREW's first five requests,
Declaration of Travis Lewis (“Lewis Decl.”), ECF
No. 16-2 ¶ 6, and that its Public Building Service
have records responsive to CREW's sixth request,
id. ¶ 11. In March 2018, GSA notified CREW that
it had found zero records responsive to its first five
requests and one responsive to its sixth. Id., Ex.
B. After realizing that it inadvertently searched for
“Mary Gilbert” rather than “Mary
Gibert” pursuant to CREW's second request, OCIO
performed a follow-up search with the correct name and
produced to CREW an additional 28 responsive pages in July
2018. Id. ¶¶ 14-15; id. at Ex. C.
GSA also withheld records that it determined were subject to
the deliberative process privilege under FOIA Exemption 5 and
redacted agency employees' signatures and cellphone
numbers under FOIA Exemption 6. Id. ¶ 19; Ex.
believes it has fulfilled its FOIA obligations and has moved
for summary judgment, Def's Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 16,
which CREW opposes, Pl's Opp. ECF No. 17. The Court held
a hearing on December 12, 2018, and the motion is now ripe
for the Court's resolution.
cases are typically resolved on summary judgment. See
Brayton v. Office of U.S. Trade Rep., 641 F.3d 521, 527
(D.C. Cir. 2011). Summary judgment is appropriately granted
if “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact
and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
FOIA, an agency must adequately search for any responsive
records. Rodriguez v. U.S. Dep't of Def., 236
F.Supp.3d 26, 34 (D.D.C. 2017). When a FOIA requester
challenges the adequacy of an agency's search, the agency
must show “beyond material doubt that its search was
reasonably calculated to uncover all relevant
documents.” Ancient Coin Collectors Guild v. U.S.
Dep't of State, 641 F.3d 504, 514 (D.C. Cir. 2011)
(quoting Valencia-Lucena v. U.S. Coast Guard, 180
F.3d 321, 325 (D.C. Cir. 1999)) (internal quotation omitted).
In reviewing an agency's search, courts examine the
methods, not the fruits, of the search. Rodriguez,
236 F.Supp.3d at 34. An agency “must show that it made
a good faith effort to ...