Telework, IT could aid in 'major reassessment' of DHS HQ consolidation

Artist's rendering of DHS complex on the St. Elizabeth's Campus

An artist's rendering of Department of Homeland Security complex planned for the St. Elizabeth's Hospital campus. (Image courtesy of Wallace Roberts & Todd)

The emergence of telework capabilities and improved telecommunications technologies could be major factors in reassessing the Department of Homeland Security's sprawling headquarters campus under construction in Washington, according to a new congressional study.

DHS began work on its consolidated headquarters in 2009 on the 770-acre St. Elizabeth's hospital campus in Southeast Washington. The project aims to combine headquarters sites for DHS's 22 component agencies into a single location, but funding concerns have led the agency to push the final completion date back 10 years Currently, the Coast Guard is the only DHS component that has fully relocated its headquarters to the campus, and has 3,200 employees working there.

The 26-page study, written by the majority staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security's Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, said the delays and lack of DHS oversight on the project have increased the initial cost from the original $3.4 billion to a projected $4.5 billion. The cost increase and delayed construction schedule, said subcommittee Chairman Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) in the study, shows DHS should consider "a major reassessment" of the project, and take rapidly improving IT capabilities into account.

"The expanded use of technology has changed the paradigm of the workspace requirements by allowing a greater emphasis on working from home as a way to reduce square footage requirements. This allows for more shared work spaces," the report states.

DHS spokesperson Marsha Catron told FCW the department plans to consolidate more than 35 office spaces at the site and leverage the investments the General Services Administration has already made in it.

DHS's fiscal 2014 request includes $92.7 million to continue development, while the GSA has asked for $261 million to renovate the Center Complex building on the campus, which would support command control and management of the agency's daily operations.

According to the subcommittee report, existing and emerging telework initiatives at other federal agencies, including DHS's own Federal Emergency Management Agency, could go a long way in changing the department's need for office space. It said, however, that DHS's telework plans remain unclear.

"Whether DHS still requires a minimum of 4.5 million gross square feet of secure space in the National Capital Region seven years after the October 2006 Housing Master Plan remains an unknown," the report said. "With the improvements in telecommunications and the growth of telework among federal agencies since 2006, it is possible that DHS will need less [space] by the project’s completion scheduled for FY 2026. However, the Committee is unaware of any attempts by DHS to reconsider space requirements."

FEMA's experimentation with hoteling and telework under its Workplace Transformation initiative has some employees using lockers and carts to store files and personal belongings as they share office space. FEMA expects to save significantly by consolidating leases prior to moving to the campus, but the study authors said it was "unclear" exactly how much money the agency would save with the effort.

"Federal office space requirements have changed since the St. Elizabeth's plan was first announced. In the mid- 2000s, telework and alternative work schedules would have a minimal impact on square footage plans at federal agencies," the report states.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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