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Inspector general investigating the decision to relocate FBI headquarters to Maryland

WASHINGTON — A federal watchdog is investigating how the Biden administration chose a site for a new FBI headquarters following a contentious competition marked by allegations of conflict of interest from the bureau's director.

The inspector general for the General Services Administration is probing the decision to replace the FBI's crumbling headquarters in Washington, D.C., with a facility in Greenbelt, Md., rather than a site in Virginia, according to a letter released Thursday by Virginia lawmakers.

The GSA, for its part, said it chose the site due to lower costs and easy access to transit. It stands behind the process.

Consideration for a new headquarters has been discussed for more than a decade, and the nearby states of Virginia and Maryland competed fiercely for the project. The announcement earlier this month choosing Maryland brought sharp criticism from Virginia. The state's senators and representatives said in a joint statement Thursday there was "overwhelming evidence" suggesting the process was influenced by politics. They called on the GSA to pause anything related to the relocation until the review is complete.

"We applaud the inspector general for moving quickly and encourage him to move forward to complete a careful and thorough review," Virginia's delegation said in a joint statement.

Maryland lawmakers, on the other hand, said their state was chosen simply because it has the best site and the project would be moving forward.

"Any objective evaluation will find that the GSA arrived at this decision after a thorough and transparent process," its leaders said in their own joint statement.

The evaluation of the agency's process and procedures for selecting the site will begin immediately, the acting inspector general said in his letter to Democratic Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

The GSA, which manages the government's real estate portfolio, said it welcomes the review and pointed out that it had already released decision-making materials and a legal review of concerns raised by FBI Director Christopher Wray.

"We carefully followed the requirements and process and stand behind GSA's final site selection decision," an agency spokesperson said in a statement.

The review comes after Wray told staff in an internal message earlier this month that he was concerned about a "potential conflict of interest" in a GSA executive choosing a site owned by a previous employer, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Wray said his objections were about the process rather than the site itself.

GSA denied any conflict, saying the site about 13 miles (20 kilometers) northeast of Washington was less expensive, had better access to transit and could be completed quickly.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press