Justice Dept. inspector general to probe FBI headquarters decision

Another inspector general has told Congress his office will look closer at the abrupt change of course on a decision to keep the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C.

The previous plan was to move the campus to suburban Maryland or Virginia.

Justice Department Inspector General Micheal Horowitz told the chairs of several key House committees that his office would conduct a review of the decision, following several contentious hearings, requests for documents and watchdog reports that have outlined longstanding challenges with the current FBI building.

Michael Horowitz, Christopher Wray
Justice Department Inspector General Micheal Horowitz, left, and FBI Director Christopher Wray, right

“The OIG is initiating a review that will assess the DOJ’s and the FBI’s planning for a future FBI Headquarters facility,” Horowitz’s July 2 letter states. “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.”

House Democrats made the probe a top priority request when they took over the chamber’s majority in January. But Horowitz, who also serves as chairman of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), has remained mum on the subject up until this point and has previously cautioned that his office wouldn’t take up requests from Congress to settle “political fights or policy battles.”

“I think that’s a lane we very much try and stay out of,” Horowitz said at a Project on Government Oversight event last November.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), operations subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and public buildings subcommittee chairwoman Dina Titus (D-Nev.) had sent the latest request for the IG to investigate in May.

The scope of their request included whether building a new facility on the site of the J. Edgar Hoover building is more cost-effective than a consolidated suburban campus in Maryland or Virginia, and what role President Donald Trump personally played in the decision to keep the FBI in Washington.

“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.  We welcome the IG’s independent examination, which will supplement our ongoing effort to get to the truth,” the lawmakers said in a statement following the IG’s announcement.

Plans to demolish the historic but crumbling Hoover building and construct a new facility in its place have already raised concerns from Republican members. House Oversight operations subcommittee Ranking Member Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) at a recent hearing, said there’s “no way” the current demolish-and-rebuild plan would be the most efficient option and said moving the FBI outside of D.C. “will be cheaper.”

The General Services Administration’s Office of Inspector General released its own report last August that determined a new D.C. headquarters would cost more than a consolidated suburban campus, house fewer agency employees and would do little to address longstanding security concerns.

GSA and its IG office also butted heads over the report’s claim that Administrator Emily Murphy omitted key details in her testimony to Congress about the White House and the president’s involvement in the decision to keep the FBI’s headquarters in D.C.

The Trump administration asserts that FBI Director Christopher Wray made the decision to keep the FBI in D.C. because of the site’s close proximity to the DOJ headquarters.

In April, Wray told members of the House Appropriations Committee that, “It is absolutely the FBI’s view, the FBI’s choice, the FBI’s preference to build a new building … at our current location.”

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