Long-delayed Homeland Security Headquarters in Doubt

Wednesday, 21 May 2014 08:05 AM

By Elliot Jager

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There appears to be no constituency to push for the completion of a headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, The Washington Post reported.

President George W. Bush had wanted to consolidate the diverse agency and some 14,000 of its employees dotted around 50 locations into the historic St. Elizabeths compound in Southeast Washington.

The original plan— the biggest government construction project in the District of Columbia since the Pentagon— was developed in the aftermath of 9/11 attacks. The government would spend $3 billion to centralize the new department which was created out of various agencies with responsibilities that included border security, immigration, cybersecurity, disasters response, terrorism prevention, and transportation security.

The project, 11 years delayed and $1.5 billion over budget, would now cost about $4.5 billion to complete, the Post reported.

Neither congressional Democrats nor Republicans are enthusiastic about going ahead – nor is the Obama administration, according to the Post.

A lack of money and the cost of rental office space has made it unfeasible to adhere to the original timetable, General Services Administration spokeswoman Mafara Hobson said.

South Carolina Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan whose oversight subcommittee has criticized the project's management said, "Sometimes you just have to drop back and punt. At what point in time does the government just cut its losses and look for a better way of doing things?"

Michael Chertoff, a former DHS secretary, who announced the project in 2006 said that during crises, like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic airliners 2006, staffers were hamstrung because they had to shuttle back and forth to various DHS offices.

He acknowledges that "there is no constituency for building a new headquarters complex" now, according to the Post.

Placing the DHS headquarters on the St. Elizabeths property, a former mental asylum built in 1852, was also intended to benefit the local Southeast Washington community and made sense from a security point of view.

In 2007, the Democratic-controlled House cut the project's budget by $6 million. "They weren't going to give Bush that amount of money – because it was Bush," an unnamed Democrat source told the Post.

Building the headquarters was not a priority for the Obama administration and what money it did request was opposed by the now Republican-controlled House.

The project was delayed further by unanticipated logistical and infrastructure costs as well as by unforeseen expenses necessitated by working within a designated historic preservation site.

Ten years into the project the only structure completed is the Coast Guard headquarters which opened in 2013. Republicans are urging the entire project be considered anew.


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