The inspector general at the U.S. Department of Justice plans to review the Trump administration's decision not to build a new headquarters for the FBI in the Washington suburbs, a project that could have brought thousands of jobs to Maryland.
Michael E. Horowitz told members of Congress that his office would review the planning process for the proposed move of the FBI from the District of Columbia.
Prince George’s County was in the running for the new headquarters, a process that was in the works for nearly a decade before Republican President Donald Trump pulled the plug in 2017. The Trump administration wants to keep many FBI employees in Washington, while moving thousands of others to Alabama, Idaho and West Virginia.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Horowitz did not offer a timeline for his review or details on its scope.
Top Democrats in Congress, including Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Baltimore, requested the investigation. The Democrats have questioned the administration’s decision and the motives behind it. Some have alleged the president has a conflict of interest in the matter because his Trump International Hotel is across the street from the current FBI headquarters, the J. Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue.
“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,” Cummings and other House leaders wrote in a statement. “We welcome the IG’s independent examination, which will supplement our ongoing effort to get to the truth.”
Cummings chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. He had joined U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, in May in asking for the inspector general’s review.
The FBI headquarters decision has been one of many Trump actions that Cummings and his committee have investigated, as the West Baltimore congressman has established himself as one of the most powerful and vocal critics of the president.
“We need to get to the bottom of why the Trump administration suddenly reversed years of planning to relocate the FBI headquarters at significant additional cost to taxpayers and housing far fewer employees,” Cummings said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun.
“We must determine whether this decision meets the needs of the FBI and is being made in the best interest of the taxpayer,” he said.
The federal government had narrowed its options for a new FBI headquarters to three sites: Greenbelt and Landover, both in Prince George’s, and Springfield in northern Virginia. Under the plan, the government would have sold the Hoover Building to a developer to help pay for some of the costs of the new suburban campus.
Cummings and DeFazio have questioned whether Trump wanted to buy and redevelop the Hoover Building himself, which he would be prohibited from doing while he is president. They wrote in an earlier letter that perhaps the president’s personal interest led to the “abrupt decision to abandon the long-standing relocation plan.”
Last year, the inspector general for the General Services Administration found that the agency’s head, when testifying before Congress, undersold the president’s involvement in the decision not to move the FBI. The GSA, which oversees government buildings, also underestimated the cost of the alternate plan of rebuilding the Hoover Building while moving thousands of employees to existing buildings in other states, according to that inspector general’s report.
The White House declined to comment.
With 11,000 employees, the FBI would have become one of Maryland’s largest employers if it had moved to Prince George’s. It would have spurred hundreds of millions of dollars in additional tax revenue to the county and the state by boosting commercial development around the site and from taxes paid by FBI employees who would move to the area.
In hopes of helping lure the FBI headquarters, the University System of Maryland proposed creating a national security training academy for students and professionals.
Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, was among many politicians who pushed to bring the FBI to Maryland, offering promises of state-funded infrastructure improvements.
“Our administration went the extra mile and then some to bring FBI headquarters to Maryland — including making our case directly to the White House — and we still believe that we are the best site,” said Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci. “We look forward to the inspector general’s review.”
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, a Democrat, said in a statement that she remains convinced her county is the best location for the FBI.
“We are pleased that the DOJ inspector general has agreed to review exactly what led to the cancellation of the FBI headquarters relocation efforts,” Alsobrooks said, adding she is “excited and optimistic that we will have the opportunity to house the nation’s top intelligence agency.”