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FBI Director Chris Wray voices concern over HQ selection process

christopher wray makes a little pout face
Stephanie Scarbrough
/
AP
FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

He sent an agencywide letter after a federal agency announced the Maryland location.

Updated: November 10, 2023 at 10:53 AM EST
This story has been updated with additional context and comment from Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay, Maryland Del. Julian Ivey, and Virginia Sen. Mark Warner.

After over a decade of searching for the best place in Maryland or Virginia to locate the FBI’s new headquarters, the federal General Services Administration finally decided on Wednesday: It would go to a site in Greenbelt, Maryland.

That Prince George’s County site, one of three on the GSA’s shortlist (and one of two in PG County), is currently owned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The third site option was in Fairfax County’s Springfield area.

And according to a letter from FBI Director Christopher Wray obtained by VPM News, the GSA senior executive who made the call had come to the agency from working at WMATA.

The agencywide letter, which was first excerpted by the Washington Post, was sent after the GSA’s announcement. It includes a list of concerns and a succinct timeline of how site selection was reached, changed and executed since the plan’s revival in spring 2022.

Maryland officials have heralded the decision, which they say will bring overdue federal investment to Prince George's County, one of the largest majority-Black jurisdictions in the country.

"Prince George's County, we don't have nearly the same amount of federal office space that other jurisdictions surrounding DC do. But we really should, quite frankly," said Delegate Julian Ivey, who represents a portion of the county where the new HQ could be located,

Putting the headquarters there, according to Maryland officials, would be a major step toward the FBI’s goal of bringing jobs to a racially diverse community.

“For too long, Prince George’s has missed out on opportunities when it comes to decisions about federal facilities and federal investments, compared to our neighbors across the region,” said County Executive Angela Alsobrooks in a statement. “Due to decades of underinvestment, our educational attainment is lower, our median household income is lower, our gross domestic product is lower, and our poverty rate is higher than many of our neighbors across the region.”

Virginia’s elected officials are… upset

Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay says it’s the latest in a decade-long, overly politicized process

"Not only was the decision made potentially in poor faith with regard to the FBI’s needs, but that the decision could’ve been potentially corrupted," he said. "It’s astounding."

Virginia Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner expressed frustration during Thursday press calls. Kaine told reporters that he was not surprised by the decision, because he’d already seen the late-stage politicization “away from the criteria that were important to the GSA and the FBI.”

Specifically, Kaine called out a series of what he called “highly unusual circumstances,” which included a July 2023 revision of the criteria for site selection as well as subsequent review of the selection panel’s decision by the senior GSA official who previously worked for WMATA.

“Even under the revised criteria, the Virginia site was the unanimous choice of the GSA and FBI officials who were charged with analyzing where the best future home of the FBI was,” Kaine said. “And yet, in a highly unusual circumstance, the GSA decided to overrule the panel.”

Warner stated that Virginia’s congressional delegation will call on U.S. Inspector General Michael Horowitz to investigate the site selection process: “This whole process needs to be thrown out and restarted.” He also said the GSA didn’t provide any notice to Virginia officials before announcing its decision.

“This is the kind of behavior I expected from the Trump administration,” Warner said, “but I think we all expect better from this administration.”

Warner also suggested concerns that conflicts of interest in the site selection process could hamper support for it in the U.S. House, where Republicans have already balked at funding a new HQ for the agency they blame for investigating former President Donald Trump.

Eleven of Virginia’s elected officials issued a joint statement Thursday afternoon, calling the GSA’s decision-making “irrevocably undermined and tainted.”

“We have repeatedly condemned political interference in the independent, agency-run site selection process for a new FBI headquarters. Any fair weighing of the criteria points to a selection of Virginia,” the statement read.

The letter is signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Warner and Kaine, as well as Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Jen Kiggans, Jennifer McClellan, Bobby Scott, Abigail Spanberger, Jennifer Wexton and Rob Wittman.

How we got here

A new headquarters for the law enforcement agency has been a point of discussion since President Barack Obama’s administration. After a pause during Trump’s administration, the headquarters discussion was revived by Biden’s team in March 2022, following advocacy from the Maryland and Virginia congressional delegations.

The push to make a decision appeared to face a potential stumbling block in May, when media reports suggested that House Republicans might hold up funding for the project over anger at the FBI’s role in investigating Trump.

Biden’s administration included $3.5 billion in its fiscal 2024 budget proposal for the new headquarters, plus $645 million in GSA funding from previous years.

The current Hoover Building headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C., was built in 1975 and intended to house 2,000 people. With a current capacity of 5,500 workers, it’s bursting at the seams. Budget documents from the Biden administration say the building “can no longer support the long-term mission of the FBI.”

Federal officials examined five criteria in making the decision, including proximity to other offices and the agency’s training facility in Quantico, Virginia; transportation options; the characteristics of the site and how quickly construction can begin; sustainability and equity; and cost of the land.

Maryland officials have argued that locating the headquarters in Greenbelt is a needed investment in Prince George’s County, a D.C. suburb they say has lost out on federal investment in the past. They also said that the site is the most cost-effective.

Virginia officials have said that the Springfield area is plenty diverse, near to lower-income largely immigrant communities in southern Fairfax and Alexandria. They’ve also pointed out that the site is close to multiple federal national security agencies and contractors already located in Northern Virginia.

Margaret Barthel is the Northern Virginia Reporter at WAMU/DCist.
Dave Cantor has been an editor with VPM News since 2022, juggling daily digital and broadcast stories.
Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
Jahd Khalil covers local government, the economy and labor issues for VPM News. Previously, he covered state government for RadioIQ and was a freelance journalist based in Egypt.
Dawnthea M. Price Lisco (dawn-TAY-uh, she/her) is the managing editor at VPM News.