The Hill: Virginia lawmakers ask Biden administration to pause move of FBI HQ to Maryland

THE HILL, REBECCA BEITSCH

A coalition of Virginia lawmakers is calling on the Biden administration to press pause on the relocation of the FBI headquarters to Maryland, citing a potential conflict of interest as the General Services Administration weighed the selection of a new site.

The Office of Inspector General (OIG) agreed last month to ignite a review of the process after FBI Director Christopher Wray sent a letter to FBI staff citing “concerns about fairness and transparency in the process and GSA’s failure to adhere to its own site selection plan.”

The General Services Administration (GSA) led the process to select a new site to replace the FBI’s aging downtown Washington, D.C., location. A three-member panel initially unanimously backed the selection of Springfield, Virginia, before their recommendation was effectively overturned by a senior executive within the GSA designed to review the panel’s work.

The Virginia delegation is urging the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to halt the move to a site in Greenbelt, Maryland, while OIG reviews the process.

“It is vital that both GSA and the FBI fully cooperate and provide relevant information to the Inspector General’s review, and that they allow time and space for investigatory efforts to reach a thorough conclusion. We urge the Administration to pause efforts to advance this headquarters process, allowing for transparent and fair review,” the lawmakers wrote.

Sens. Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D), and Reps. Don Beyer (D), Gerry Connolly (D), Morgan Griffith (R), Jen Kiggans (R), Jennifer McClellan (D), Bobby Scott (D), Abigail Spanberger (D), Jennifer Wexton (D) and Rob Wittman (R) all signed the letter.

The letter from Wray to FBI staff, first reported by NBC News, indicates the executive tasked with reviewing the relocation panel consistently favored Greenbelt, noting the executive previously worked for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which owns the land now designated for construction of a new headquarters.

And in the review process the seniors executive consistently made “one-directional” recommendations that either “either benefited the Greenbelt site or disfavored the Springfield site, according to the letter.

“The FBI’s concerns were exacerbated by the fact that the senior executive rejected the recommendation of the unanimous site selection panel — something that, while not inherently inappropriate, is exceedingly rare,” Wray wrote.

OMB did not immediately respond to request for comment.

GSA Director Robin Carnahan has previously defended its work in selecting the new site. 

“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,” she told lawmakers last month

The number of public transit options to Greenbelt as well as the most favorable cost to taxpayers were reasons behind the Maryland selection. 

And Maryland lawmakers have also defended the process.

“An objective reading of all the facts led to the selection of the FBI headquarters at Greenbelt,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said last month.

“Those that didn’t win are upset. But the facts are the facts.”

The letter from Virginia lawmakers comes the day before Wray is slated to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“All of the parties involved, including GSA and the FBI, had previously stated publicly the need for a process that was fair, transparent, and determined by the merits of the prospective sites,” the Virginia lawmakers added in their letter.

“In light of the objections from the FBI, there is concern that this standard was not met. This process must be paused to allow for a fair and transparent review to address these concerns.”

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