FBI director questions decision to move headquarters to Maryland | ET REALITY


Christopher A. Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, on Thursday criticized the Biden administration’s selection of Greenbelt, Maryland, for the bureau’s new headquarters, citing a flawed process and suggesting that a top federal official had a conflict of interest.

Wray’s efforts to sow doubt about the selection could have serious implications for a long-awaited plan whose announcement Wednesday night appeared to mark the end of a decade-long bureaucratic struggle.

In an unusually forceful rebuke of the Biden administration, Wray claimed that officials at the General Services Administration, which oversees the management and development of federal properties, demanded that the FBI move to the Maryland suburbs, even though there had been an alternate site in Springfield, Virginia. ., performed better on a selection criteria checklist.

“I hoped this message would include our enthusiastic support for the way GSA arrived at its selection,” Wray said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we are concerned about fairness and transparency in the process and the fact that GSA is not following through with its own site selection plan.”

Robin Carnahan, administrator of the General Services Administration, responded with a statement of her own, accusing Mr. Wray of making “inaccurate statements directed” at his employees.

But Wray’s comments were clearly unwanted news, and he pointedly reminded the administration that Congress, not Biden’s political appointees, controls “the next steps” in the approval process.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia joined a bipartisan group of state House members to call the decision “irrevocably undermined and tainted” and demanded that the plan be abandoned.

Lawmakers in Virginia and Maryland have fought for years over where the FBI headquarters should be. And while Wray acknowledged that he does not have direct control of the decision-making process, he does have significant political influence. House Republicans could take advantage of their doubts to delay funding or demand changes.

The sprawling campus would be built near the Greenbelt Metro station as part of a larger multi-use development under the GSA proposal. It would replace the dilapidated J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington, which is covered with netting to protect passersby from falling concrete.

The office will maintain a smaller office in downtown Washington, with about 1,000 employees, a senior law enforcement official said.

For months, FBI officials privately expressed concerns about the site development process, while stating that they were not inherently opposed to moving outside Washington or considering the northern Virginia suburbs, where many employees live.

Wray, who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump in 2017 after firing James B. Comey, said an unnamed senior General Services Administration official overruled a site selection panel by choosing the Greenbelt site instead. from the Springfield location.

The Greenbelt parcel includes other lots owned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which manages the region’s Metro rail system.

The office “raised serious concerns about the appearance of a lack of impartiality,” given that the official worked as a senior administrator at the authority before joining GSA, he wrote.

Wray said the official’s conduct, “while not inherently inappropriate, is extremely rare.”

The official Mr. Wray referred to is Nina M. Albert, a former vice president of the transit authority who served as GSA’s real estate director until last month, when she left to become acting vice mayor for planning and economic development in the District. from Colombia, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

Albert, who has overseen several large redevelopment projects in the Washington region, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A senior GSA official said Ms. Albert was thoroughly vetted by the agency’s ethics experts before she was assigned the task, and that GSA leaders ignored recommendations from subordinates to include Springfield in the list of potential sites first.

“Any suggestion that there was inappropriate interference is unfounded,” Carnahan said. “We support the process, the decision and all the public servants who carefully followed the process and made a good decision.”

Leaders in Prince George’s County, one of the largest majority-black suburbs in the country, have long portrayed the site as a vital economic project. The area offers ample room for expansion and access to public transportation and major highways, they said, noting a highly trained workforce and a greater variety of merchants in the area than the somewhat isolated Hoover Building.

But a senior official briefed on the process said Greenbelt’s choice was based on other factors, including the availability of the land and the “racial inequities” of construction in Prince George’s County, an important factor given the office’s reluctance. to hiring black agents and inadequate surveillance of civil rights leaders under Mr. Hoover, its founding director.

In 2018, Trump scrapped long-standing plans to select a site in Virginia or Maryland, which dated back to the Obama administration. At the time, Trump advisers cited a lack of available Congressional funds needed to pay for the $3 billion cost of construction in the suburbs and the inconveniences associated with relocating some 10,000 employees out of the city.

Instead, the Trump administration proposed rebuilding the headquarters at its current site and permanently moving more than 2,000 FBI employees to Alabama, West Virginia and other states.

Lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia reversed that decision after he left office, inserting language in a federal funding bill that revived the plan to move the office to the suburbs.

Trump’s unusual interest in the building (a favorite topic of discussion in the Oval Office early in his administration) and its proximity to his now-defunct hotel across the street from the Hoover Building raised eyebrows among some Democrats. They claimed he wanted to prevent the Hoover site from being redeveloped into a competing project, perhaps another luxury hotel.

After a five-year investigation, the Justice Department’s inspector general determined that the decision was likely motivated by logistical and funding issues, not by an effort by Trump to personally intervene to protect his property in downtown Washington from a possible rival.

Several FBI witnesses, including Mr. Wray, told the inspector general that they had been given authority to determine the location of the new headquarters.

They chose to rebuild at the existing location because it would allow them to concentrate their workforce in a central location next to the Justice Department and would cost less, officials said.

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