For those who’ve visited or lived in Washington, D.C., the FBI’s brutalist headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue between the White House and U.S. Capitol can’t be missed as its concrete slab facade looms over the sidewalk. For years, it’s been in declining shape and disrepair, leading federal officials to push for a new HQ on a larger site with new facilities and more room to grow, as all bureaucratic agencies are predisposed to do.
Well, finally the contentious process reached its apparent end, with Maryland winning out over Virginia’s bid to host the FBI’s main office — despite the FBI’s training academy being located along the bank of the Potomac south of D.C. in Quantico, Virginia. But the situation is not as settled as those who advocated for Maryland may have hoped.
As it turns out, Virginia’s two Democrat U.S. senators along with the FBI’s director Christopher Wray are crying foul and claiming a conflict of interest is the reason Maryland was improperly selected.
More on the Democrats firing inside the tent over the FBI HQ decision via ABC News:
The contentious debate over a new FBI headquarters intensified further Thursday as the director said he was concerned about a “potential conflict of interest” in the site selection and the White House defended the process as “fair and transparent.” But a senator said there [was] a clear need for a federal investigation.
FBI Director Christopher Wray’s unusually sharp criticism came in an internal email to agency employees that was obtained by The Associated Press. It was the latest twist in a vigorous competition among jurisdictions in the national capital region to land America’s premier law enforcement agency.
That General Services Administration selected Greenbelt, Maryland, a Washington suburb, as the home for a new facility to replace the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover Building, which is blocks away from the White House. Wray said his objections were about the process rather than the Greenbelt site itself.
The GSA, which manages the government’s real estate portfolio, said that site about 13 miles (20 kilometers) 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.
Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, which 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. She did not comment on whether did Biden had any direct involvement in the final site decision.
This situation is seemingly far from over. Lawmakers will still need to approve the Maryland site for the new FBI headquarters and, with the Biden-nominated FBI director training his fire on the Biden-nominated GSA administrator, it seems this internal squabble is not going to end quietly.
Notably, the GSA’s administrator is testifying before the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday, so expect to learn more about the situation as Administrator Carnahan presumably tries to brush aside concerns about the site selection process. That will almost certainly require her to at least imply that Director Wray and Virginia’s Democrat senators are being inappropriate in their comments.