New DHS headquarters development under fire

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2014_01_DHShq_GSA GSA rendering of part of the new DHS headquarters facility at St. Elizabeths in Washington, D.C.

This year was supposed to be the year the Department of Homeland Security moved into its new, consolidated $3.45 billion headquarters facility on the grounds of the historic St. Elizabeths hospital campus in Southeast Washington, D.C.

But a new 26-page report by the majority staff of the House Homeland Security Committee, released Jan. 10, details years of alleged mismanagement of the project and raises questions about whether development should continue as planned or be subject to major revisions.

DHS and the General Services Administration selected the St. Elizabeths site in 2006 to become the future home of a DHS headquarters that would help integrate the massive, sprawling collection of component organizations into a single agency — DHS’ so-called “One DHS” vision. But construction did not begin until 2009. And now, according to DHS’ latest construction update, the agency will need another 12 years and an additional $1 billion to complete the facility.

“With our nation $17 trillion in debt, we cannot afford waste and frivolous spending,” said Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Management Efficiency, in a statement accompanying the report. “While touring the St. Elizabeths site in March 2013, I was struck by how taxpayer dollars had been spent thus far. Most Americans would be surprised to see the dilapidated historic buildings that are now undergoing extensive renovation for DHS’ headquarters.”

Today, only one DHS component – the U.S. Coast Guard – can be found on the new campus. The rest of the department is housed in leased office spaces strewn across Washington, D.C. The department’s plan is to consolidate its headquarters footprint into seven so-called “anchor” locations, including its current Nebraska Avenue headquarters complex, the U.S. Secret Service headquarters building and the Ronald Reagan Building, among others.

But of the 181 leases for office space in 53 locations, more than 150 are scheduled to expire by 2016, adding more uncertainty to the extent of potential cost overruns by the time St. Elizabeths construction is completed in 2026.

“DHS’ lack of proper management and forward-thinking when negotiating its leasing arrangements has led the department to sign costly lease extensions to account for the delays in the headquarters consolidation program,” the report states.

The report is also critical of DHS’ lack of planning for the changes that have taken place in federal office space requirements and employee work habits, particularly in the areas of telework and hoteling. It notes the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been one of the few DHS components to experiment with hoteling, but has been unable to produce concrete estimates of potential cost savings.

“DHS plans to implement flexible workplace strategies to leverage the 14,000 seats to accommodate up to 20,000 or more employees in their revised consolidation plan, but has yet to provide detailed information on how they will ensure that teleworking employees have reliable home internet service and infrastructure that is needed to implement teleworking,” the report state. “DHS’ implementation has been mixed, with some components such as FEMA having more robust telework strategies than others.”

In a posting on its website, GSA says, “it is difficult to accurately depict the sheer magnitude of this development.” According to the site, the new DHS campus will include 4.5 million square feet of workspace and 1.5 million square feet of structured parking.

“It is the largest construction project in the Washington metropolitan area since the Pentagon was built during World War II,” according to GSA.

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Agencies, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Departments, General Services Administration (GSA), hoteling, St. Elizabeths, telework
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