Fairfax County and Virginia leaders call for investigation into FBI HQ site selection

The current FBI headquarters in D.C. (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Virginia’s elected leaders may not agree on issues like abortion access or education, but they remain united by the conviction that the Commonwealth would be a better host than Maryland for the FBI.

After coming together to pitch a Springfield warehouse as the best site for the law enforcement agency’s new headquarters, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin joined Democratic senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and Virginia’s bipartisan House delegation last Thursday (Nov. 9) to blast the federal government for awarding the facility to Prince George’s County instead.

“It was outrageous,” Warner said in a press call earlier that day. “I mean, Virginia clearly was the better case. Virginia clearly was winning the first set of criteria. The fact that political pressure was put on to try to change the criteria really stunned me.”

Their outrage was echoed by Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay, who has called Springfield a “no-brainer” choice for the FBI’s new headquarters.

“This is profoundly disappointing and defies common sense,” McKay said in a statement to FFXnow. “The FBI headquarters should be strategically located near the training academy in Quantico, a short VRE ride from the Springfield site. This decision will not serve the long-term needs of the FBI or its employees nearly as well as the Virginia site would.”

The General Services Administration (GSA) announced Thursday that it has selected a 61-acre site near the Greenbelt Metro station in Maryland to serve as the FBI’s new headquarters campus, confirming an initial report by the Washington Post that came out a day earlier.

“The site was the lowest cost to taxpayers, provided the greatest transportation access to FBI employees and visitors, and gave the government the most certainty on project delivery schedule,” the agency said in a press release. “It also provided the highest potential to advance sustainability and equity.”

The decision appears to have concluded a years-long effort to replace the FBI’s aging hub at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in D.C. that dragged on through four presidential administrations.

However, a previously confidential report released by the GSA showed that a site selection panel convened this summer had recommended the Springfield site — currently known as the GSA Franconia Warehouse Complex at 6808 Loisdale Road — as the one “most advantageous to the Government.”

The panel, which consisted of two GSA employees and one FBI employee, noted that the site had the advantage of already being owned by the federal government and had more capacity for an expansion than the Greenbelt site, which ranked the lowest of the three options on that criteria.

The Greenbelt site came out ahead of the former Landover Mall, also in Prince George’s, but it was the “least advantageous” when it came to the top criterion: proximity to other facilities critical to the FBI, including its training academy in Quantico and federal agencies in D.C. like the Justice Department.

Further raising eyebrows in Virginia, FBI Director Christopher Wray rejected the proposed relocation to Greenbelt in an Oct. 12 letter first reported by the Washington Post, stating that former GSA Commissioner of Public Buildings Nina Albert’s previous job with Metro created “unresolved” conflict-of-interest and transparency issues.

In their joint statement, Youngkin, Warner, Kaine and Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Jen Kiggans, Jennifer McClellan, Bobby Scott, Abigail Spanberger, Jennifer Wexton, and Rob Wittman said they were “deeply disturbed to learn that a political appointee…overruled the unanimous recommendation” of the site selection panel.

“We have repeatedly condemned political interference in the independent, agency-run site selection process for a new FBI headquarters,” the statement said. “Any fair weighing of the criteria points to a selection of Virginia. It is clear that this process has been irrevocably undermined and tainted, and this decision must now be reversed.”

The Virginia lawmakers are pressing for an investigation into the process by the Office of the Inspector General, according to Warner.

McKay also suggested that the potential conflict of interest should be investigated. He accused Metro in the past of trying to influence the selection process by advancing plans to redevelop its Greenbelt station.

“Sadly, it’s come to light that there may have been a potential conflict of interest that I believe must be investigated,” McKay said. “This is essential to ensure that the legitimacy and transparency of the selection process is upheld. If issues do come to light, the right thing to do would be to eliminate the Greenbelt site entirely and choose from the remaining two sites.”

General Services Administrator Robin Carnahan denied the accusations of political interference, stating that the GSA and FBI teams involved in the selection process were “disappointed” by Wray’s “inaccurate claims.”

In a July 6, 2021 memo, Carnahan said Albert’s relationship to Metro as its vice president for real estate and parking until July 2, 2021 had been reviewed for possible ethics issues, but was ultimately found to not be disqualifying.

“Any suggestion that there was inappropriate interference is unfounded,” Carnahan said. “The choice of Greenbelt, Maryland, is fully consistent with the decision-making process as well as all laws, regulations, and ethical considerations. We stand behind the process, the decision, and all of the public servants who carefully followed the process and made a good decision on behalf of the FBI and the public.”

Virginia officials previously raised concerns that political pressure from Maryland lawmakers was affecting the site selection process, leading to a last-minute change in criteria that they believed favored the Prince George’s sites.

During last week’s press call, Warner noted that the three-person panel had recommended Springfield even under the revised criteria, which gave greater weight to equity as a priority for the new headquarters site and less weight to proximity and transportation accessibility.

“This is a long-term decision that has to be in the best interest of the men and women who work at the FBI,” Warner said. “…The idea that those [needs] of the FBI are not going to be taken into consideration and all of the criteria where even the GSA career officials thought Virginia was the better choice, this whole process needs to be thrown out and restarted.”

A spokesperson for the GSA’s Office of the Inspector General said the office is “aware of the matter” but has “no additional information to share at this time.” The office reviewed the new FBI headquarters plans in 2018, after the Trump administration scrapped the push for a relocation.

That report found that then-GSA Administrator Emily Murphy had met with Trump and other White House officials to discuss the headquarters plans and later gave “misleading” testimony at Congressional hearings, among other findings.

However, the Department of Justice’s inspector general released a report in late October stating that it found no evidence that the FBI’s temporary plan to retain and rebuild the existing J. Edgar Hoover building was “based on improper considerations or motives.”