Oversight

House Dems welcome watchdog probe of FBI building

By faustasyan shutterstock  photo ID: 365684687 FBI HQ J EDGAR HOOVER building 

A government watchdog will probe the fate of the FBI headquarters project. (Photo credit: Faustayan/Shutterstock.com)

The internal watchdog at the Department of Justice will take a look at the controversy surrounding the scuttled plan to relocate FBI Headquarters to a suburban campus in Virginia or Maryland suburbs and make the current downtown Washington, D.C., site available for commercial development.

Michael E. Horowitz, DOJ's inspector general, made the announcement in a July 2 letter to four committee and subcommittee heads in the House of Representatives.

"The review will include an examination of DOJ's and the FBI's progress in their planning, their assessment and consideration of the previously proposed plan to move FBI Headquarters to a suburban location, and their assessment and consideration of the plan to demolish the J. Edgar Hoover Building and construct a new facility on that site," Horowitz wrote.

The plan to move the FBI was considered a done deal in Congress since about 2012, and what remained to be determined was whether Virginia or Maryland would obtain the plum project. In her last years in the Senate, Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), a senior appropriator, made great effort to steer the development to her state.

Soon after the Trump administration took office the plan was slowed down and then scuttled. The reason given by the administration was a lack of guaranteed funding in an appropriations bill, but many Democrats wondered if President Donald Trump was motivated to keep the FBI in place because a commercial development on the prominent site would compete with his own luxury hotel at the Old Post Office Building just across Pennsylvania Avenue.

"Developing the [J. Edgar Hoover building] site into a mixed-use retail hotel and residential development could have clearly impacted the bottom line of the president of the United States," Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said at a House hearing in February 2018.

In an October 2018 letter Connolly joined four other Democratic lawmakers in alleging that Emily Murphy, head of the General Services Administration, had withheld details of her personal communications with Trump and other top officials with regard to the disposition of the FBI project.

Earlier this year, Murphy disclosed a letter from FBI Associate Deputy Director Paul Abbate stating the that a new modern building at the current location "will best meet the FBI's need."

FBI Assistant Director Jill Tyson told the Oversight Committee on June 27 that the decision to remain on the downtown site was made by FBI Director Christopher Wray.

"Director Wray has continued to emphasize that it is the FBI's preference to remain on Pennsylvania Avenue," Tyson said.

Connolly, along with Reps. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.), issued a statement welcoming the IG probe.

"For months, our committees have investigated the administration's sudden change of heart on a federal property across the street from the president's namesake hotel, but because the FBI has withheld key decision-making documents from Congress, we have been left with many unanswered questions," the legislators said. "We welcome the IG's independent examination, which will supplement our ongoing effort to get to the truth."

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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