Homeland Security urged to weigh all options for consolidating offices

The Homeland Security Department and General Services Administration should consider more alternatives before consolidating Homeland Security offices in Washington, D.C., at a new location, according to a report from a watchdog agency.

More information is needed to help the agencies gain backing for their preferred site -- St. Elizabeths Hospital West Campus in Southeast Washington, the Government Accountability Office report (GAO-07-658) stated.

"In order to better support DHS' preferred course of action at St. Elizabeths, the [DHS] secretary and [GSA] administrator should jointly perform a comprehensive analysis of the costs, from the perspective of the federal government as a whole, that would result if DHS headquarters operations are consolidated at St. Elizabeths, and compare these costs to the costs of other alternatives at the St. Elizabeths campus," the report said.

The report, written by Mark Goldstein, director of physical infrastructure issues at GAO, recommended that the analysis include: the actual and projected leasing costs for DHS' current locations, developmental costs for new sites and how the costs would vary depending on the option selected, and the leasing and construction alternatives for the St. Elizabeths site. Finally, the report said DHS and GSA could support their case for consolidation at St. Elizabeths by describing the money that would be saved by reducing security costs at current downtown locations.

In response to the report, both GSA and DHS said the recommendation to perform a comprehensive cost analysis of all options ignores the fact that "the 'status quo' scenario is not acceptable." The GSA response stated that a cost analysis would be misleading as DHS is unable and unwilling to renew its leases.

GAO also said GSA's draft master plan for the project, initially expected this month, should include a better estimate of the governmentwide costs and savings of the relocation, and address concerns over historic preservation of St. Elizabeths and the impact on the local community and the environment. The draft is unlikely to be completed until the end of this year.

GSA spokesman Michael McGill said the agency is consulting with interested parties and other agencies to produce an environmental impact statement and a programmatic agreement under the National Historic Preservation Act. These processes require GSA to assess various options for redevelopment and determine how they would affect the historic site.

GSA expects to release the draft of the environmental statement in late August or early September, with the final version and the programmatic agreement ready sometime in November or December. Under this time frame, the final master plan would be submitted in December or January, McGill said, with the draft likely released about a month in advance.

The GAO report confirmed McGill's assertion that GSA is working closely with stakeholders such as the National Capital Planning Commission, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Washington, D.C., Planning Office. According to the report, however, the groups feel that, despite extensive consultation, their concerns have not been sufficiently addressed.

GSA responded saying that while the agency had not developed an additional plan, it had altered existing plans. For example, modifications would move development away from vistas, preserve a majority of the historic buildings and establish a height limit for new buildings on the site.

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