(WASHINGTON) — FBI Director Christopher Wray blasted the site selection process of the agency’s new headquarters in Greenbelt, Maryland, and said there could be some “potential conflicts of interest” at play in its selection over a nearby Virginia location.
The General Service Administration — the agency that oversaw the site selection process — announced Wednesday that it selected Greenbelt, Maryland, as the headquarters for the FBI. The community, about 13 miles northeast of D.C., was selected over Virginia after years of the two states bordering the District duking it out for the new headquarters. The current FBI building, the J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown D.C., is in desperate need of repair, according to the FBI.
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” after he says a GSA senior executive may have tipped the scales in Greenbelt’s favor. He said the FBI and GSA have worked together for months to find a location that is “best for our workforce, the mission, and the American people” — but then in the end, “outside information,” including the executive’s connection to the owner of the selected site, played a role in the decision.
“In the course of our work with GSA, however, we identified concerns about a potential conflict of interest involving the site selection authority and whether changes that individual made in the final stage of the process adhered to the site selection criteria. Despite our engagement with GSA over the last two months on these issues, our concerns about the process remain unresolved,” Wray wrote in an all-staff email, obtained by ABC News.
Career officials had initially determined Springfield, Virginia, was the best location for the new headquarters, but in recommending Greenbelt, the GSA executive’s justifications for the Prince George’s County community didn’t make sense, according to the note sent to employees.
The GSA said Wednesday that Greenbelt was the best site because, compared to other locations, it had the smallest impact on taxpayers, provided the best transportation access and had the most certainty on a project delivery schedule.
However, a site selection panel wrote a detailed report about why it recommended the D.C. suburb of Springfield. The senior executive within the GSA would then evaluate the three sites that were finalists — Greenbelt and Landover in Maryland, and Springfield in Virginia — and make a decisions, Wray said.
“This senior executive, a political appointee, reviewed and considered the site selection panel’s report and its unanimous recommendation. In a number of areas, the executive diverged from the panel’s conclusions and selected Greenbelt. The senior executive wrote a Site Selection Decision report explaining the rationale for the Greenbelt selection and provided a draft report to the FBI for review and feedback. Upon review of GSA’s decision report, the FBI expressed concern that elements of the site selection plan were not followed,” the email says.
The email to staff said “outside information” was inserted into the process “in a manner which appeared to disproportionately favor Greenbelt, and the justifications for the departures from the panel were varied and inconsistent.”
The email says the FBI “raised a serious concern about the appearance of a lack of impartiality by the GSA senior executive given the executive’s previous professional affiliation with the owner of the selected site.” The site was owned by the administration official’s previous employer, the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, according to the FBI.
In rejecting career officials’ recommendation to make Springfield the new site, the move was “unprecedented” but not rare, according to the FBI.
The head of GSA said Wray’s claims are “inaccurate.”
âGSA and FBI teams have spent countless hours working closely together over many months, so weâre disappointed that the FBI Director is now making inaccurate claims directed at our agency, our employees, and our site selection plan and process,â U.S. General Services Administrator Robin Carnahan said in a statement.
The White House said the GSA led the process and chose the best location for the new headquarters based on its criteria. In July, the GSA announced changes in criteria for choosing the new location, boosting the two potential locations in Maryland.
“I can tell you it was a fair and transparent process,” Olivia Dalton, principal deputy press secretary for the White House, said of the selection process.
The director sent a letter to the GSA administrator in September raising concerns, but that letter was not responded to by the time the announcement came.
ABC News’ Quinn Owen and Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report.
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