Virginia Business: GSA inspector general to probe FBI HQ site selection

VIRGINIA BUSINESS, KATE ANDREWS

Three weeks after U.S. Sen. Mark Warner lambasted a decision to place the FBI headquarters in Maryland instead of Springfield as “corrupt,” the Office of the Inspector General at the U.S. General Services Administration said Thursday it would launch an investigation immediately, according to a letter made public by Warner’s office.

In the letter dated Nov. 30, acting Inspector Gen. Robert Erickson wrote that his office “is initiating an evaluation of GSA’s selection of the site. Our objective will be to assess the agency’s process and procedures for the site selection to relocate the FBI headquarters.”

The probe comes after Warner, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and almost all of Virginia’s congressional delegation — as well as FBI director Christopher Wray — all raised concerns about the GSA’s decision to build a new FBI headquarters in Greenbelt, Maryland, on land owned by the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority.

Although Warner, a Democrat who serves as chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, and Kaine expressed disappointment on Nov. 8 when the GSA’s choice was made public, his tone changed to anger by the next morning. Early on Nov. 9, Wray sent an email to the entire FBI workforce raising concerns that a former political appointee to the GSA who previously worked at WMATA had overridden the recommendation of a three-person panel — including two longtime GSA officials and one career FBI official — that the FBI headquarters be placed in Springfield, in southern Fairfax County, on property owned by the GSA.

Upon reading a draft of the GSA executive’s report, FBI officials “expressed concern that elements of the site selection plan were not followed,” Wray wrote. “In particular, the FBI observed that, at times, outside information was inserted into the process in a manner which appeared to disproportionately favor Greenbelt, and the justifications for the departures from the panel were varied and inconsistent.” He also wrote that FBI officials “raised a serious concern about the appearance of a lack of impartiality by the GSA senior executive, given the executive’s previous professional affiliation with the owner of the selected site.”

According to an Engineering News-Record article, Nina M. Albert, WMATA’s former top real estate official, was appointed commissioner of GSA’s Public Buildings Service in 2021 by the Biden White House. However, Albert left the GSA and became Washington, D.C.’s deputy mayor of planning and economic development in October, according to The Washington Post. Wray did not include Albert’s name in his email.

In the hours after Wray sent his email, Kaine, Warner, Youngkin and U.S. Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Jen Kiggans, Jennifer McClellan, Bobby Scott, Abigail Spanberger, Jennifer Wexton and Rob Wittman sent out a statement condemning “political interference” in the site selection decision. Warner went on to say during a news conference later that day that he was “shocked” at Wray’s email and called the override of the panel’s recommendation “outrageous. This whole process needs to be thrown out and restarted.”

On Nov. 15, the same group of Virginia congressional lawmakers, with the addition of U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, wrote to the GSA’s Office of the Inspector General to request an investigation into the selection process, arguing that the GSA “administered a site selection process fouled by political considerations and alleged impropriety – one that was repeatedly curated to arrive at a predetermined outcome.”

The letter continues, stating that the political appointee, again unnamed in the elected officials’ letter, “promptly left the federal government” after directing that the FBI headquarters be built in Maryland, “implicating Congress’s ability to engage with this individual in an oversight capacity. In defending the indefensible, GSA has decided to proceed with the selection of Greenbelt over the objections of its client agency, the FBI. These facts, when taken together, paint an ugly picture of a fatally flawed procurement that demands further investigation.”

Thursday, after receiving Erickson’s letter confirming the investigation, the same group of Virginia congressional leaders issued a statement praising the decision: “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.”

The director of communications at Albert’s office said Thursday they had no comment at this time.

The new FBI headquarters would replace the aging J. Edgar Hoover FBI building in Washington, D.C. A second location in Prince George’s County, Maryland, was under consideration in addition to the Greenbelt and Springfield properties. In the past two years, the Springfield site has been promoted by Kaine, Warner and Youngkin as a natural fit for the headquarters, where between 750 and 1,000 people would work, due to its proximity to the FBI’s Quantico training facility and other intelligence sites. The project also is expected to bring thousands of other jobs and an economic boost to the region.

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