Newly elected U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has decided to get closer to her constituents by moving out of the federal building complex across from Honolulu Harbor.
She has gotten permission from the General Services Administration, the federal government landlord that approves office leases, to move into new digs at 1132 Bishop St., near the transit hub at the Fort Street Mall.
The aging federal building, formally known as the Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse at 300 Ala Moana Blvd., houses the Honolulu offices of the rest of the congressional delegation.
A massive complex complete with metal detectors that is guarded diligently, the federal building is difficult to navigate and has no public parking.
It feels more like a fortress than a friendly gathering spot for civic engagement.
For 40 years, Hawaii’s senators and congressmen have automatically moved into the complex, which also houses the U.S. District Court, the Social Security Administration, the passport office and the Internal Revenue Service.
The building became less convenient as a workplace after 9/11, “when they started to clamp down on security,” Hanabusa said Thursday at her federal building office. The presence of a preschool on site also heightened concerns because of the children killed in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing at a federal building.
Hanabusa said she decided to move elsewhere when GSA officials warned her that the ducts in the federal building, which is being renovated, had not been cleaned in 30 years, and that she might consider looking elsewhere. She said she was surprised.
“We were under the assumption that you couldn’t” leave the federal building, she said. “It was like, ‘Wow, we can do that?’”
Hanabusa said she saw it as a good opportunity to get into a more welcoming location.
She and her staff decided to start looking around at other locations in the city. They needed space for about seven employees — a district director, three case workers to provide services for constituents and several interns.
Relocating required cooperation from a number of government agencies, she said. GSA oversees the move, but the delegations get their budget from administrators at the U.S. House of Representatives.
Hanabusa has obtained a two-year lease on the new space, which will be fairly tight quarters at 1,800 square feet. According to her staff, the rent will be less than the amount the GSA charges tenants in the federal building.
GSA workers arrived Thursday to begin moving her office furniture out of the federal building, where she has been operating temporarily since her election in November, and into the new location.
The new offices near the Honolulu office of the AARP will make it easier for her to make contact with voters, many of whom are elderly, Hanabusa said. She expects to begin holding open houses at the new offices so that she can answer questions from constituents and update them on political developments in Washington.
The new location has some public parking and is close to Chinatown, where there are several additional parking lots. The Fort Street Mall is the main hub for buses coming from the rest of the island into Honolulu.
Hanabusa, who formerly served as president of the state Senate and was a congresswoman from 2011 to 2015, won two elections in November — one to complete the term of Rep. Mark Takai, who died in July, and another to serve a full two-year term beginning in January.
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.