The FBI will finally have a new headquarters, even if a controversial debate rages over the choice of site announced this week. FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday he was concerned about a “potential conflict of interest” in choosing the General Services Administration in Greenbelt, Maryland, a Washington suburb, to host new facilities to replace the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover Building. The White House, however, defended the process as “fair and transparent.” Wray’s unusually sharp criticism came in an internal email to agency employees obtained by the AP. It’s the latest twist in a vigorous competition among jurisdictions in the National Capital Region to become America’s premier law enforcement agency.
The GSA, which manages the government’s real estate portfolio, said the chosen site, about 13 miles northeast of Washington, was the least expensive and had the best access to public transportation. But Wray said in his memo that the choice came after a GSA executive overruled a board meeting and chose land owned by a former employer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, whose state was also in the running for the project, called for an investigation. “I felt like the effort to change the criteria was extremely political, but I was stunned when we discovered that three career civil servants had unanimously chosen Virginia and that a political appointee had overturned the decision. Obviously, there needs to be an inspector general investigation,” he said.
In a joint statement, Virginia’s elected leaders called for reversing the decision, saying their state’s site remains the best choice under “any fair assessment of the criteria.” But GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan supported the agency’s work, saying officials followed all laws and ethical considerations. “Any suggestion that there was inappropriate interference is unfounded,” she said. White House principal deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton also defended the process Thursday as “fair and transparent.” “The 61 acres of Greenbelt represent both the lowest cost to taxpayers, the most transportation options for FBI employees, and we have had the most assurances of the rapid means with which a project could start,” Dalton said.
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Last year, Congress asked the administration to consider three sites for the new headquarters: Greenbelt and Landover in Maryland or Springfield, Virginia. A board of directors comprised of representatives from the GSA and the FBI unanimously agreed on Springfield’s choice, Wray wrote. But a senior GSA executive changed course and opted for Greenbelt, the FBI director said. “The FBI observed that, at times, outside information was inserted into the process in ways that appeared to disproportionately favor Greenbelt, and that the justifications for panel departures were varied and inconsistent,” Wray wrote, adding the “ “The FBI’s concerns about the process remain unresolved.” Carnahan said the GSA heard the FBI’s concerns and conducted “a legal review of each concern raised.” (Read more FBI stories.)