Federal agency may have misled lawmakers about White House role in FBI headquarters plan

The U.S. General Services Administration official overseeing plans for a new FBI headquarters delivered incomplete — and possibly misleading — testimony to a congressional committee about the White House’s input, according to an inspector general’s report released Monday.

The GSA inspector general’s report also found the federal agency understated the costs of its plan to rebuild the FBI headquarters on its existing downtown Washington site.

The study’s conclusions alarmed Maryland officials, who once hoped the Federal Bureau of Investigation might relocate to Greenbelt or Landover.

“Not only does the report find that GSA inaccurately accounted for the costs associated with keeping the FBI headquarters at the Pennsylvania Avenue site, but it states that GSA Administrator [Emily] Murphy misled Congress on the White House’s involvement in the project,” said Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer of Southern Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House of Representatives. “These findings, along with previous reports of President Trump’s personal involvement in the construction of a new FBI headquarters, raise serious concerns.”

The report states that Murphy delivered “incomplete” testimony about the FBI project to a House appropriations subcommittee in April.

Murphy’s statements “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 report states.

Murphy told the inspector general’s office she attended two meetings about the FBI project at the White House on Jan 24, including one with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office.

In a written statement Monday, GSA replied that the inspector general’s report “acknowledges an indisputable fact: the Administrator’s congressional testimony was truthful.”

“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,” the agency’s statement said. “GSA is unaware of any White House involvement in the FBI’s decision.”

But Rep. Anthony G. Brown, who represents parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, said the inspector general’s report “confirms what I long suspected: heavy-handed involvement by the White House.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, has said the president is particularly interested in the project because the Trump International Hotel is located across the street from the current building site.

But the GSA said its decisions about the project were made because of input from senior FBI leadership, not the White House.

The FBI has occupied the current building since 1974 and began looking for alternatives for the aging structure in recent years. In 2014, the GSA said the project would be built at one of three locations: Greenbelt, Landover or Springfield, Va.

The Trump administration reversed course in February, saying its new plan would include a worthy building and a better deal for taxpayers.

The reversal was a significant blow to Maryland and Virginia, which had been competing for years for the project and its anticipated 11,000 jobs.

The GSA inspector general’s report states that the more than $3 billion plan to rebuild the current building would cost more than the original proposal to move the headquarters.

“Our review found that GSA did not include all of the costs in its Revised FBI Headquarters Plan,” the report states.

But GSA officials said in their response that the agency “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. “

jebarker@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sunjeffbarker

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
39°