House Oversight members take aim at former GSA official in request for FBI headquarters investigation
Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., and member Gerry Connolly, D-Va., called on the General Services Administration’s acting inspector general to investigate potential political influence in the agency’s decision to select Greenbelt, Md., for the FBI’s main office.
The fallout over the General Services Administration’s selection of Greenbelt, Md., as the site of the new FBI headquarters continued to stew Tuesday, as members of the Committee on Oversight and Accountability called for the agency’s acting inspector general to investigate the decision.
Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., member Gerry Connolly, D-Va., penned a letter acting IG Robert Erickson Tuesday, calling for him to investigate the decision, insinuating that “political or parochial interests” may have been at play.
“With respect to the new FBI headquarters, GSA initially set out criteria for assessing potential sites, and a process for selecting among them. But it changed the rules in the middle of the game. The criteria were changed. The selection process itself was changed,” the letter said, referring to GSA’s adjustment of its assessment criteria in July following congressionally directed consultations with Virginia and Maryland delegations.
The letter goes on to take issue with GSA’s decision to give then-Public Buildings Service Commissioner Nina Albert the authority to provide the final assessment of the Greenbelt site selection, superseding a decision made by a panel of civil servants that previously picked a site in Springfield, Va.
“It's unsurprising, then, that the administration’s own FBI Director, Christopher Wray, called foul,” the letter said. “In reaction to GSA’s Nov. 9 decision, he sent a message to FBI employees that stated, ‘Unfortunately, we have concerns about fairness and transparency in the process and GSA’s failure to adhere to its own site selection plan.’ Wray’s note also flagged his concern about, ‘a potential conflict of interest involving the site selection authority and whether changes that individual made in the final stage of the process adhered to the site selection criteria.’”
That criticism centers on Albert, who is currently the deputy mayor for planning and economic development in Washington, D.C. and a former vice president of real estate and parking for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which owns the land at the Greenbelt site.
GSA has publicly released documents outlining its decision process, including Albert’s assessment of the three potential sites for the FBI headquarters and a Nov. 3 legal review of the selection by GSA general counsel Alex DeMots following an Oct. 12 letter from Wray calling for a new site selection authority.
“Our office has concluded that the concerns raised in the [Wray] letter do not provide GSA with sufficient legal justification to question the legitimacy of the site selection process,” the DeMots memo said, which also “did not find any evidence of bias or any improper conflict in the record” regarding Albert.
“Moreover, as the limited authorization indicates, WMATA is a government agency, not a private company – and her participation in this matter should be understood in that context,” the memo goes on to say. “We have found nothing in the record, let alone the ‘clear evidence’ required under the law, to suggest that Ms. Albert did anything but carry out her duties and responsibilities as set forth in the [Site Selection Plan] in good faith.”
The Comer-Connolly letter calls for the OIG investigation to analyze the GSA’s adjustment of the assessment criteria, the decision to provide Albert with site selection authority given her past WMATA role and her decision to afford greater weight certain selection criteria.
The letter comes as Erickson has already initiated an evaluation of the selection process based on a request from Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va.
Albert said in a press conference Monday that the process was quite “transparent and open book,” noting that she has been called to testify at House Oversight and Judiciary hearings regarding the decision and would cooperate.