St. Elizabeth's campus again at issue on Capitol Hill

Members of the House and Senate disagree over whether the DHS consolidation is serving the best interests of taxpayers or the department.

Coast Guard All Hands Blog image: St. Elizabeth's campus.

The Coast Guard is the only DHS component that has fully migrated its HQ to the St. Elizabeth's campus.

The Department of Homeland Security's massive headquarters under construction at the old St. Elizabeth's Hospital site in Washington, D.C., remains either a gigantic waste of money or a model investment that could save the federal government hundreds of millions of dollars in the long term, depending on who you ask.

"Sometimes as a nation, we can be penny-wise and pound foolish. This is a project that exemplifies that," House Homeland Security Management and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Jeff Duncan said at a Sept. 19 hearing.

The South Carolina Republican took issue with some of the project’s "cushy" features, including Brazilian hardwood used in the Coast Guard's headquarters buildings at the site, rainwater toilets and eco-friendly roofs. He said DHS had not given the project the necessary oversight and urged the Senate to act on his acquisition reform bill, which the House passed by voice vote in June.

The project, which aims to combine headquarters sites for DHS's 22 component agencies, has had a rocky history with lawmakers since DHS began work in 2009 on the 770-acre campus in southeast Washington. The Coast Guard is the only DHS component that has fully relocated, and has 3,200 employees working at the site.

A Government Accountability Office study unveiled at the House hearing said DHS and the General Services Administration hadn't followed relevant GSA guidance and GAO's leading practices when developing the cost and schedule estimates for the project, that cost estimates were unreliable, and that Congress should consider withholding future funding until those problems are addressed.

The GAO study contained a table that shows the completion deadline for the project is 11 years behind the original schedule, and if completed by the current 2026 target date could cost a total of $4.5 billion.

At the same time as the House hearing, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee was praising the project as a long-term money saver.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) issued a report that said the headquarters project would improve security and save the federal government almost $1 billion.

DHS operates out of more than 50 separate facilities in the D.C. area, many of which are physically inadequate, according to Carper. The current infrastructure used to house the department, he said, has made it much more difficult to implement the vision behind the Homeland Security Act and create the collaborative approach envisioned.

The consolidation, said Carper, would improve the agency's crisis management by allowing better collaboration and interaction among personnel during crises, as well as making it physically easier for them to work together.

The Senate report also claimed that the federal government would save nearly $700 million over 30 years by completing and moving DHS into a consolidated campus headquarters.

NEXT STORY: Bill targets visa waiver loophole

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