FBI head cites a ‘potential conflict of interest’ in the selection process for a new headquarters


WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI director told staff in an internal message Thursday that he was concerned about a “potential conflict of interest” in the process used by the Biden administration to select a Maryland site for the bureau’s new headquarters. The White House called the process “fair and transparent.”

Christopher Wray said in an email obtained by The Associated Press that Congress may review the matter, the latest twist in a contentious competition among jurisdictions in the national capital region to land America’s premier law enforcement agency.

That General Services Administration confirmed Wednesday that it had selected Greenbelt, Maryland, a Washington suburb, as the home for a new facility to replace the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover Building, which is blocks away from the White House. Wray said his objections were about the process rather than the Greenbelt site itself.

The GSA, which manages the government’s real estate portfolio, said that site about 13 miles (20 kilometers) northeast of Washington was the cheapest one with the best access to public transit. But Wray asserted in his note that the choice came after a GSA executive overruled a board and picked land owned by a former employer.

The GSA did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Wray’s concerns.

White House principal deputy press secretary Olivia Dalton did not comment on whether Biden had any direct involvement in the final site decision, but defended the process.

“I can tell you it was a fair and transparent process,” Dalton told reporters on Air Force One as Biden traveled to Illinois on Thursday. “The 61 acres in Greenbelt is both the lowest cost to taxpayers, most transportation options for FBI workers, and we had the most assurances about the expeditious means with which a project could get underway.”

Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Wray has previously indicated he would prefer to stay in Washington, but experts say a suburban location is a better choice for the agency’s long-term security. “To say somehow this process was skewed is wrong,” Hoyer said.

Maryland and Virginia had long been vying to land the FBI, and officials in Virginia, which is home to the FBI Academy, criticized the government’s decision.

Congress last year directed the administration to consider three sites for the new headquarters: Greenbelt and Landover in Maryland or Springfield, Virginia.

A board that included representatives from the GSA and the FBI unanimously agreed on Springfield, Wray wrote. But in an “exceedingly rare” move, a senior GSA executive changed course and went with Greenbelt, the FBI director said.

“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,” Wray wrote.

The land in Greenbelt is owned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which once employed the senior GSA executive, according to Wray’s note.

“Despite our engagement with GSA over the last two months on these issues, our concerns about the process remain unresolved,” Wray wrote. “There are still a lot of open questions, and we’ve still got a long way to go.”

Maryland’s elected leaders said in a joint statement Wednesday that their push to bring the FBI headquarters to their state was “never about politics” and the new facility would meet a “dire, longstanding need.”

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., contended there was “gross political interference in an established GSA process.”


Associated Press writers Seung Min Kim and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.

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