Republican Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan pressed General Services Administration (GSA) Director Robin Carnahan on the chosen location for the new FBI headquarters during a congressional hearing on Tuesday.
FBI Director Chris Wray expressed concern last week that Nina Albert, a senior GSA official, had a “conflict of interest” in her decision to move the new FBI headquarters to Greenbelt, Maryland, rather than Springfield, Virginia, which a number of lawmakers felt was a more qualified location. Jordan asked Carnahan for details regarding this decision while underscoring his stance that the FBI shouldn’t get a new location at all, in lieu of accusations that it has been weaponized politically against conservatives, during a House Oversight Committee hearing Tuesday.
“[Wray] didn’t just say there were problems, he said you didn’t follow your own rules,” Jordan began. “You say that’s not true?”
“Our general counsel found that we did follow all the rules,” Carnahan said to Jordan.
“What do you say? You’re the boss,” Jordan responded.
Carnahan agreed with her general counsel’s findings. Jordan began asking a separate question before noting he didn’t believe the FBI should be given a new location.
“I don’t want it to go either place (referring to Springfield and Greenbelt). I don’t think we should be rewarding the FBI with a [new location] – the same FBI that said pro-life Catholics were extremists, the same FBI that retaliated against whistleblowers, the same FBI that censored Americans… but I am concerned about [the GSA’s] process,” Jordan said.
Jordan turned back to questions about Albert, who overruled a three-person panel advocating for the new FBI headquarters to be in Virginia. Albert previously worked for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA), which owns the Greenbelt land, thus giving her “direct affiliation with one of the parties of this procurement,” according to Wray.
“Maybe I’m wrong, but a three-person panel looked at all of this and they made a decision, and then that was overruled by Ms. Albert, who had been at GSA for all of two years, [then] she left before you guys made the decision public,” Jordan said.
“The normal process for GSA, when it makes site selections, is to have a panel that makes some recommendations… we then have the senior real estate professional of the agency make an ultimate decision,” Carnahan said. “In fact, sometimes those decisions are different. The interesting thing is that–”
“How often have they been different?” Jordan said.
“When let me tell you the most relevant time that happened,” Carnahan responded.
“No, that’s not what I asked. I asked how often does that happen,” Jordan said.
Carnahan then responded that the most relevant time a site selection decision has been overruled had been in the selection of the new FBI headquarters location, which was flipped twice since 2014. Jordan reaffirmed that that wasn’t his original question and called for an investigation into GSA’s process for selection.
“That still begs the question I’m asking. So you’ve had it happen twice in the same project, how often does it happen anywhere else? That’s an important answer for us to have,” Jordan said. “An Inspector General investigation is exactly what is needed to get to the bottom of this.”
“And if we find this hardly ever happens but happened twice with the FBI headquarters, holy cow, that tells us something in of itself,” Jordan said.
The GSA did not immediately respond to an inquiry about how many times a panel’s recommendation for site selection has been overruled by the senior real estate professional of the agency.
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