An FBI official testifying before a U.S. House panel on Tuesday questioned the process that led to the Biden administration choosing a Maryland location for a new bureau headquarters instead of a competing site in Virginia.
The General Service Administration rejected an advisory panel’s recommendation for a site in Springfield, Virginia, when it chose to plan a new FBI facility in Greenbelt, said Nicholas Dimos, the assistant director of the FBI’s Finance and Facilities Division.
Dimos said the bureau was “surprised” to learn the GSA’s site selection authority for the project, Nina Albert, departed from an advisory panel’s findings and chose the Maryland site that benefited her prior employer — the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which owns the Greenbelt site. The agency operates transit in the District of Columbia and its suburbs, including bus and rail.
The recommendation from the panel of two GSA designees and one FBI designee was nonbinding — and the GSA was authorized to depart from it — but it was unusual, Dimos said. His comments came during a hearing by the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.
“Within the FBI’s procurement shop, this is exceedingly rare,” he said.
A subsequent FBI review of the GSA decision showed further issues, including that the GSA prioritized certain measures in a way that was inconsistent with a previously published site selection plan, and that the GSA used “outside information” to inform the decision, Dimos said.
Those changes “repeatedly benefited the Greenbelt site and disadvantaged the Springfield site,” he said.
“The site selection plan gave the (Albert) authority to come to a different conclusion than the panel,” Dimos said. “But the consistent, one-directional nature of the changes favoring Greenbelt caused concerns for the FBI.”
Albert was invited to testify at the hearing, but declined, subcommittee Chairman Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, said. Albert is now acting deputy mayor for Washington, D.C.
Perry said that the panel may escalate efforts to compel her testimony.
“We will be sending her a letter to continue to seek the answers we need,” he said. “And we’ll have to consider other options available to the subcommittee so that we can hear her perspective in the future, which will be very important to getting to the bottom of this issue.”
Elliot Doomes, the commissioner for public buildings service at the GSA, stood by the agency’s decision, praising the Maryland site’s access to transit, and the certainty associated with the costs and timeline of its construction.
He denied that the agency’s process was biased for Greenbelt.
“The site selection authority did not make changes in favor of a specific site,” Doomes said.
Battle between states
Dimos, Doomes and several lawmakers on the panel agreed on the need for a new FBI headquarters — though Perry said he didn’t necessarily agree — citing the condition of the current J. Edgar Hoover Building, between the White House and U.S. Capitol in the center of Washington.
The building is in disrepair and its urban location poses security risks, they said.
“The status quo is a drain on taxpayer dollars to sustain a failing … facility that doesn’t meet the needs of our workforce or mission,” Dimos said.
“It is a counterintelligence disaster just waiting to happen,” subcommittee ranking Democrat Dina Titus of Nevada said. “And, as such, is a threat to our national security.”
A long-running process to find a new headquarters in the Washington region for the FBI has caused years of ill will between lawmakers representing the District of Columbia’s neighboring states.
Perry, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, said Tuesday the decision appeared political.
“The American people smell a rat here,” Perry said. “We’ve got to get to the bottom of what happened here, because this does not fulfill the FBI’s mission.”
Much of the skepticism from both parties Tuesday came from the divergence between the selection of Greenbelt and the advisory panel’s recommendation.
Asked by full committee ranking Democrat Rick Larsen of Washington how often the GSA departs from an advisory panel’s finding, Doomes said the agency doesn’t keep a comprehensive database but that “it’s happened a couple of times in the last 25 years.”
Doomes added that to this knowledge, those instances didn’t trigger an inspector general evaluation, as the FBI decision has.
Doomes said the Greenbelt site’s easy access to transit and cost certainty “reflect new government-wide directives and provide better taxpayer value.”
“Greenbelt provides the best access to transportation and is the most transit-accessible,” he said. “It provides the government with the greatest project-schedule certainty, offers the greatest opportunity to positively impact the Washington, D.C., region and has the lowest overall cost to taxpayers of all the three sites.”
The Springfield site has a warehouse and a “classified tenant” that would have to be moved before construction on an FBI facility could start, adding to the cost and timeline uncertainty if the government continued with that site, Doomes said.
Dimos, who agreed on the need for a new facility, said the FBI would prefer a site closer to downtown Washington to be more convenient to meet with the U.S. Justice Department and other partners outside of the bureau.
Perry criticized the selection criteria that included advancing equity and sustainability. Those criteria were set by Congress in a 2022 spending bill, but Perry said they should be removed.
“What we should be focused on here is the mission of the FBI and what best enhances that,” he said. “This is on Congress, but not one of these sites … services the mission of the FBI.”