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FBI Chief: Selection of HQ Site Is a Little Fishy

Christopher Wray suggests person who made the final call had a conflict of interest
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 10, 2023 12:38 PM CST
FBI Director Suggests Wrongdoing in HQ Site Selection
FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on threats to the homeland, Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.   (AP Photo/Stephanie Scarbrough)

The FBI is finally getting a new HQ, though a contentious debate is raging over the site selection announced this week. FBI Director Christopher Wray said Thursday that he was concerned about a "potential conflict of interest" in the General Services Administration's selection of Greenbelt, Maryland, a Washington suburb, as the home for a new facility 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 was the latest twist in a vigorous competition among jurisdictions in the national capital region to land 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 cheapest one with the best access to public transit. But Wray asserted in his note that the choice came after a GSA executive overruled a board and picked land owned by a former employer, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, whose state also vied for the project, 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.

In a joint statement, Virginia's elected leaders called for the determination to be reversed, asserting that their state's site remains the best choice under "any fair weighing of the criteria." But GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan stood behind 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 as "fair and transparent" on Thursday. "The 61 acres in Greenbelt is both the lowest cost to taxpayers, most transportation options for FBI workers, and we had the most assurances about the expeditious means with which a project could get underway," Dalton said.

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Congress last year directed the administration to consider three sites for the new headquarters: Greenbelt and Landover in Maryland or Springfield, Virginia. A board that included representatives from the GSA and the FBI unanimously agreed on Springfield, Wray wrote. But a senior GSA executive changed course and went with Greenbelt, the FBI director said. "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," Wray wrote, adding 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." (More FBI stories.)

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