By FATEMA HOSSEINI and JOSIE JACK
WASHINGTON – The Biden administration’s announcement that the new FBI headquarters would be constructed in Greenbelt, Maryland, was met Thursday with criticism from the agency’s director and allegations of corruption in the selection process from Virginia lawmakers.
On Capitol Hill, a spending measure that would be a vehicle for helping to pay for the new FBI headquarters was pulled from the House floor, part of a broader battle among lawmakers ahead of a looming Nov. 17 government shutdown.
The latest developments suggest that the years-long debate over the location of the new FBI headquarters seems to be continuing, notwithstanding
FBI Director Christopher Wray said there was a “potential conflict of interest” in the agency headquarters decision, writing in an internal email Thursday to FBI employees, according to multiple media sources. Wray said he believed one senior GSA executive may have acted in favor of Greenbelt’s selection.
Wray said the FBI has “concerns about fairness and transparency in the process and GSA’s failure to adhere to its own site selection plan.”
“Despite our engagement with GSA over the last two months on these issues, our concerns about the process remain unresolved,” Wray wrote.
Senator Mark Warner, D-Virginia, said on a call with reporters that Virginia lawmakers will be calling for a Department of Justice inspector general’s review due to alleged “corruption” in the selection process.
“The fact that you’ve got three career professionals, two representing GSA and one representing the FBI, coming together even with the new criteria and still choosing Virginia only to have that overwritten by a political appointee is outrageous,” Warner said. “This is the kind of behavior I expected from the Trump administration, but I think we all expect better from the current administration.”
Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, whose district includes the rejected Springfield site for the headquarters, said in a statement that the “GSA has shamelessly caved to political pressure,” and that the agency did not warn lawmakers in advance about the decision.
Amidst these allegations, Maryland’s state and federal officials hailed the move.
“This is a historic moment for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and our nation,” said a joint statement from the officials, who dubbed themselves “Team Maryland.” “For decades, the dilapidated J. Edgar Hoover Building has failed to meet the FBI’s operational needs, which has undermined our national security. The once-fabled building has crumbled before our eyes, with nets surrounding the facility for years to protect pedestrians from falling debris.”
The 61 acres in Greenbelt emerged as the preferred location due to its proximity to multiple transportation networks, including Metro, and other federal facilities, the ease of developing the now-vacant site and the desirability of promoting equity, according to the GSA. Greenbelt had the highest score for all the mentioned criteria compared to the other two sites, the GSA said.
Greenbelt also represents the lowest cost to taxpayers, with an estimated cost of $26.2 million for site acquisition and preparation, GSA said. That compared to over $100 million for a site in Landover, Maryland, and $64 million for the Springfield site.
President Joe Biden in March issued his fiscal 2024 budget plan under which $3.5 billion would come from a proposed Federal Capital Revolving Fund, and $645 million from earlier appropriations for the GSA.
In addition to moving about 7,500 people from the FBI’s headquarters to Greenbelt, the GSA is planning to keep up to 1,000 FBI employees in a federal facility in downtown Washington.
But prospects for funding the FBI headquarters move are hazy at the moment. That is because Congress is deadlocked over spending bills, even as a current stopgap funding bill expires on Nov. 17.
On Wednesday evening, after the FBI move was made public, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, proposed an amendment to an appropriations bill to block the move.
While the amendment to the financial services and general government spending bill failed, the FBI headquarters decision was one of the reasons House Republican leaders pulled the overall bill from the floor, Roll Call reported.
The establishment of the FBI headquarters is poised to bring significant economic benefits to the region, including job creation and infrastructure improvements, local, state and federal officials said.
“After a long push from Team Maryland, the FBI Headquarters is officially coming to Prince George’s County!” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, tweeted. “This is the right decision – it’s a win for the FBI’s mission, for taxpayers, and for our goal of ensuring federal investments advance equity in our communities.”