Warner condemns FBI HQ site selection in Md. as ‘corrupt’
FBI director, Youngkin, other Va. officials decry override by former GSA official
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner said Thursday that the FBI headquarters site selection — choosing Greenbelt, Maryland, over Springfield — was “corrupt” and that he expected better from the Biden administration. Warner’s comments followed a Thursday morning email by FBI director Christopher Wray to the agency’s entire workforce, saying that a former political appointee to the General Services Administration overrode a three-person panel’s unanimous recommendation to build the FBI’s new headquarters in Springfield.
Warner, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and almost all of Virginia’s congressional delegation called for a reversal of the decision in a bipartisan statement Thursday afternoon.
In a two-part site selection process, two career GSA officials and a longtime FBI official evaluated two locations in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and a location in Springfield, and the panelists unanimously recommended 58 acres in Springfield already owned by the GSA. However, during the second phase of site selection, a senior executive at GSA who was appointed by the White House recommended the Maryland site.
Wray wrote in the email, which Virginia Business obtained Thursday afternoon, that upon reading a draft of the GSA executive’s report, FBI officials “expressed concern that elements of the site selection plan were not followed. In particular, the FBI observed that, at times, 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.”
Also, Wray wrote, FBI officials “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.” While not naming the executive, the email states that the person recently worked for Washington Metro Area Transit Authority, which owns the Greenbelt property.
According to an Engineering News-Record article, Nina M. Albert, WMATA’s former top real estate official, was named commissioner of GSA’s Public Buildings Service in 2021. However, Albert left the GSA in October and is now working as Washington, D.C.’s deputy mayor of planning and economic development, according to her LinkedIn page. Albert’s communications director did not immediately return messages requesting comment Thursday afternoon.
Later Thursday, after The Washington Post reported on Wray’s criticism, Kaine, Warner, Youngkin and U.S. Reps. Don Beyer, Gerry Connolly, Jen Kiggans, Jennifer McClellan, Bobby Scott, Abigail Spanberger, Jennifer Wexton and Rob Wittman sent out a statement condemning “political interference” in the site selection decision.
“We are deeply disturbed to learn that a political appointee at the General Services Administration overruled the unanimous recommendation of a three-person panel comprised of career experts from the GSA and the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluding that Springfield, Virginia, is the site best suited for the new FBI headquarters,” the Virginia officials’ statement says. “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. It is clear that this process has been irrevocably undermined and tainted, and this decision must now be reversed.”
Warner, a Democrat who serves as chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, had voiced disappointment Wednesday night that Greenbelt had been picked over Springfield, but said in a Thursday news conference that he was “shocked” by Wray’s letter.
“Even I was shocked, when this morning, you see the director of the FBI put forward an unprecedented communication to all FBI employees on how corrupt this process was,” Warner said. “The fact that you’ve got three career professionals … choosing Virginia, only to have that overridden by a political appointee, is outrageous. This is the kind of behavior I expected from the Trump administration, but I think we all expect better from the current administration.”
Warner added that he and other officials will call for a general inspector review, an action he said he hopes will be taken by the Biden administration without additional political pressure. “This whole process needs to be thrown out and restarted,” he said.
The location for a new FBI headquarters, replacing the aging facility in Washington, D.C., has long been under discussion in the Washington region, with Virginia and Maryland officials making cases for why their states would be best for the new office, which is expected to bring in thousands of jobs and an economic boost. In Maryland, two properties in Prince George’s County — the former Landover Mall site, and land near the Greenbelt Metro station — were under consideration, and on Wednesday, the Greenbelt land was announced as the GSA’s choice.
The decision to relocate the Washington-based headquarters was delayed during the Trump administration, but a report in October from the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General said that the evaluation of sites was not impeded by the Trump White House, despite allegations that the president wanted the headquarters to stay put over concerns that a new hotel competing with the Trump International Hotel could be built on the former FBI headquarters site.
In the past two years, the Springfield site has been promoted by Kaine, Warner and Youngkin as a natural fit for the headquarters, where between 750 and 1,000 people would work, due to its proximity to the FBI’s Quantico training facility and other intelligence sites. Wray’s email says that the three panelists came to a unanimous recommendation for the Springfield property and wrote a “detailed consensus report articulating the basis for its recommendation of Springfield.” Wray added that the rejection of the panel’s unanimous recommendation, “while not inherently inappropriate, is exceedingly rare.”