Richmond Times-Dispatch: Investigation launched into why Virginia was passed up for FBI headquarters

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, LINDSAY WHITEHURST

A federal watchdog will investigate how the Biden administration chose a site for a new FBI headquarters following a contentious competition marked by allegations of conflict of interest.

The Inspector General for the General Services Administration is probing the decision to locate the facility in Greenbelt, Maryland, over a site in Springfield, Virginia, according to a letter released Thursday by Virginia lawmakers. The project would replace the deteriorating J. Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.

Consideration for a new headquarters has been discussed for more than a decade, and the states of Virginia and Maryland competed fiercely for the project. The announcement earlier this month choosing Maryland brought sharp criticism from Virginia.

Virginia’s senators and representatives said in a joint statement that there was evidence the process was influenced by political considerations and called on the GSA to pause anything related to the relocation until the review is complete.

The statement was released by U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Morgan Griffith, Jen Kiggans, Jennifer McClellan, Bobby Scott, Abigail Spanberger, Jennifer Wexton and Rob Wittman.

“Given the overwhelming evidence suggesting that the General Services Administration administered a site selection process fouled by politics, we agree that an inspector general investigation is the appropriate next step,” the statement reads. “We applaud the inspector general for moving quickly and encourage him to move forward to complete a careful and thorough review. In the meantime, the GSA must pause all activities related to the relocation until the IG’s investigation is complete.”

Maryland lawmakers, on the other hand, said their state was chosen simply because it has the best site and the project would be moving forward.

“Any objective evaluation will find that the GSA arrived at this decision after a thorough and transparent process,” its leaders said in their own joint statement.

The news comes after FBI Director Christopher Wray told staff in an internal message earlier this month that he was concerned about a “potential conflict of interest” in a senior executive choosing a site owned by a previous employer.

GSA, which manages the government’s real estate portfolio, denied any conflict and said the Greenbelt site was chosen because it was cheapest and had the best access to public transit. The site is about 13 miles northeast of Washington.

Maryland and Virginia have long been vying to land the FBI. After the headquarters announcement was made, Warner urged an investigation.

“I had felt that this has been grossly political with efforts to try to change the criteria, but I was astounded when we found out that three career officials unanimously picked Virginia and a political appointee overturned it. Clearly, there needs to be an inspector general investigation,” he said.

GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan earlier this month defended the selection and said the process was fair.

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“I am proud of the process that we ran. I stand behind the decision of our team, and of all the public servants who carefully followed that process and selected the site most advantageous to the government,” Carnahan told lawmakers on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability in a Nov. 14 testimony.

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