GSA Misrepresented White House Role, Costs of FBI Headquarters Decision, IG Says
“The new demolish-and-rebuild plan would cost more than the cancelled exchange plan,” the watchdog found.
The final draft of a previously leaked inspector general’s report does not let up on some tough criticisms of the General Services Administration.
The version released on Monday said leaders misrepresented both the costs of a new plan to keep the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington and the role the White House may have played in the dramatic decision last April to cancel a planned move to the suburbs.
“Our review found that GSA did not include all of the costs in its Revised FBI Headquarters Plan, and that the new demolish-and-rebuild plan would cost more than the cancelled exchange plan,” Inspector General Carol Ochoa’s team wrote. “We also found that the FBI determined that the security level for the new FBI headquarters is Level V. However, the security level in the program of requirements and the countermeasures for how to achieve it cannot be definitively determined until the program of requirements is complete and additional risk assessments are completed.”
Most dramatically, the IG found that GSA chief Emily Murphy’s April 17 testimony before the House Appropriations Committee, Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee “was incomplete and may have left the misleading impression that she had no discussions with the president or senior White House officials in the decision-making process about the project.”
The GSA report was requested by Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., who is among the lawmakers harboring suspicions that President Trump may have had his own hotel business in mind when he abruptly ended the four-year bidding process for a new FBI complex in July 2017.
The GSA on Monday also stuck to its guns. “The IG review acknowledges an indisputable fact: the administrator’s congressional testimony was truthful,” it said in a statement. “As the FBI’s representative stated under oath before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, the FBI made the decision to keep its headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue. GSA is unaware of any White House involvement in the FBI’s decision. Further, GSA stands by the cost analysis in its revised plan, as those numbers are accurate, transparent, and more representative of the full costs of the project than the analysis put forth in the IG review.”
IG investigators interviewed 20 officials and reviewed related congressional testimony and more than 50,000 GSA documents. “Early in the review, the OIG learned that during the course of GSA’s decision-making on the revised FBI headquarters plan, Murphy met with the president on January 24, 2018, about the project,” the report said in a narrative that included several conversations between GSA and FBI Director Christopher Wray on the bureau’s desire to stay downtown. “When we asked about the meeting, some GSA witnesses refused to answer any questions about this and other relevant White House meetings, and some of those said they were told or believed the information was subject to executive privilege.”
When the IG asked Murphy directly why she did not disclose the White House meeting, Murphy said she had a different interpretation of the questions from Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill. She added that she did not deliver a prepared response because, the IG said, “she thought that response would ‘derail’ the hearings and not answer the substance of the question.”
The GSA chief, in commenting on a draft of the report, also questioned the IG’s oversight techniques as “improper” for conducting a “non-traditional,” multi-disciplinary review. The IG argued that such an approach is well within its authority under the Inspector General Act.
Connolly on Monday issued a lengthy statement calling for hearings and subpoenas on GSA officials “who misled Congress under oath.” He said he had requested the review—decisions to launch investigations are up to the IG—because “I was concerned that the administration’s decisions to cancel and amend the procurement would further delay the delivery of a new FBI headquarters and cost taxpayers more money,” he said.
“I also suspected that President Trump was more involved in this procurement than administration officials were letting on in their sworn testimony to Congress. The Trump International Hotel is across the street from the J. Edgar Hoover Building, and the Trump Organization has a longstanding and documented interest” in the property on which the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover building has housed the FBI since 1975.
Connolly added that the “IG estimates that the Funding Gap Analysis GSA provided to Congress for its revised plan to rebuild on the Hoover site underestimated the cost of that option by as much as $516 million—nearly a quarter of the original shortfall estimate.”
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