Inspector General Investigates Reports of Bias in New FBI Headquarters Choice

December 1, 2023 by Tom Ramstack
Inspector General Investigates Reports of Bias in New FBI Headquarters Choice
J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — A federal inspector general’s investigation is checking out reports that conflicts of interest might have influenced the choice last month of Greenbelt, Maryland, for the new FBI headquarters.

Until the General Services Administration announced the 61-acre Greenbelt site on Nov. 8, a second site in Springfield, Virginia, was the leading candidate for the new headquarters.

“Our objective will be to assess the agency’s process and procedures for the site selection to relocate the FBI Headquarters,” the GSA inspector general said in a statement.

The investigation is a response to a letter from Virginia senators and representatives who said political favoritism by at least one senior executive at the agency appeared to be a factor in the site selection.

Instead of using a career GSA employee to oversee the site selection process, the agency allowed a political appointee who was predisposed to favor Greenbelt, to lead the final decision, the letter says.

“In July 2023, the agency executed a series of changes to significantly alter long-established site selection criteria and scoring rules,” the letter says. “The changes made to the criteria were almost exclusively responsive to perceived concerns and direct requests from representatives of the Greenbelt site, meant to tilt the selection process in favor of Greenbelt.” 

The political appointee was not named in the Virginia officials’ statement. He left the federal government after the Greenbelt site was announced.

“The political appointee … overturned the decision of a panel of career officials who unanimously selected Springfield, in part by changing how certain criteria were calculated and how certain factors were considered, contrary to what had been previously outlined to the public and to Congress by GSA,” the letter says.

The FBI is relocating from downtown Washington because its current building is crumbling, too small and lacking in adequate fiber optics for the latest computerized equipment, according to FBI officials.

The J. Edgar Hoover Building opened in 1974 but now has netting around it to prevent debris from falling onto passersby. FBI officials first approached members of Congress in 2009 about the possibility of a new headquarters.

Only about half the FBI’s headquarters staff work out of the building. Others are spread across office buildings around the Washington area, which has led to complaints from the agency about workplace inefficiencies.

The complaints were verified in a 2014 GSA report that said, “Fragmentation resulting from FBI HQ’s multiple locations diverts time and resources from investigations, hampers coordination and collaboration and decreases flexibility.”

Concerns about the selection process were raised by FBI Director Christopher Wray in a memo to his staff last month. He mentioned a “potential conflict of interest” in the memo. 

“I had hoped this message would include our enthusiastic support for the way GSA arrived at its selection,” Wray wrote in an email to FBI employees. “Unfortunately, we have concerns about fairness and transparency in the process and GSA’s failure to adhere to its own site selection plan.”

GSA officials deny any impropriety. They say they chose Greenbelt because it offered good access to public transit, assurances of an unimpeded construction schedule by building on publicly-owned land and the best deal for taxpayer money.

The Springfield site is close to the FBI training academy at Quantico, Virginia. It is located on federally owned land and has transportation access through the nearby highway and public transit systems. 

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore seemed exasperated about accusations of an error in the site selection.

“The FBI belongs in Maryland,” Moore said in a statement. “And we know we have always won on the merits. We’re not just excited about this because it’s the right choice for Maryland. We’re excited about this because it’s the right choice for the country, and it’s the right choice for the FBI too.”

The site in Greenbelt is projected to generate more than 7,500 new jobs and $4 billion in economic activity.

Congress has set aside $1 billion for the project so far but expects the final cost to be much higher, perhaps multiple billions. No firm estimate is available yet.

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