Federal officials involved with the building of a new headquarters for the FBI declined to say directly Wednesday whether the White House had a role in the decision to abruptly alter that project.
Speaking at a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the General Services Administration were repeatedly asked whether they were aware of any conversations President Donald Trump had with administration officials about the proposed new building.
“My question is very simple: Are you aware of any conversations or communications that any member of the administration has had with the president of the United States about the project?” Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland asked the officials.
“I have not been a part of any of those conversations,” said Richard Haley, assistant director of the FBI’s finance division told the lawmakers.
“I didn’t ask that,” Van Hollen responded. “I’m asking about whether you are aware of any conversations that anyone in the administration had with the president of the United States about this project.”
“I don’t believe I’m in a position to answer that question,” Haley said.
Maryland Sens. Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, both Maryland Democrats and members of the committee, peppered the officials with questions about the decision to not build a consolidated headquarters in Maryland or Virginia and instead pursue rebuilding a $3.3 billion headquarters at the FBI’s current location, the J. Edgar Hoover Building.
“Who else was in the room that decided we were going to rebuild the Hoover Building?” Cardin asked.
Haley repeatedly stressed that the decision was made by the FBI. But both he and Dan Mathews, commissioner of the General Service Administration’s Public Buildings Service, declined to say whether they were aware of conversations at the White House before those decisions were made.
“The way that you’re answering, it simply encourages suspicion,” said Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top ranking Democrat on the committee.
“I think I’ve answered it as best I can,” Haley responded.
Lawmakers have raised questions about the decision, announced this month after the government spent years and millions of dollars planning a consolidated site, in part because the new plan would not meet security requirements the FBI had previously said were critical, including a separate truck inspection facility and a large setback that a suburban campus would allow.
“Under the old plan these features were considered critical for the FBI’s security — now they’re gone,” said Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican and the committee’s chairman. “It is past time for the GSA to implement a workable plan.”
Maryland and Virginia have been competing for years for the project and its anticipated 11,000 jobs. The Trump administration halted the effort last year, citing a lack of funding from Congress. The new proposal calls for consolidating about 8,300 jobs in Washington and spreading the rest out at locations across the country.
By demolishing and rebuilding the FBI’s current headquarters, GSA estimates it can finish the job for $3.3 billion. The agency estimated that building in Maryland or Virginia would have cost $3.57 billion.
The White House, which has remained silent on the FBI headquarters publicly, has also declined to answer questions in the past about its role in the project. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond Wednesday to a request for reaction to the exchange during the hearing.