GSA seeks funding boost for DHS headquarters project

The General Services Administration requested its fiscal 2009 discretionary budget to more than double to cover the initial costs of constructing the new -- and controversial -- headquarters for the Homeland Security Department.

In its fiscal 2009 budget request, GSA asked for $481.6 million in discretionary funds, a 103 percent increase from $237.7 million it received for fiscal 2008. Most of the increase, with additional appropriations, will pay for the initial stages of constructing DHS' new 1.2 million-square-foot headquarters on the 176-acre West Campus site of the shuttered St. Elizabeths Hospital in southeast Washington.

GSA budgeted $347 million for fiscal 2009 to begin construction. The request is the first step in what GSA projects to be a $3 billion project. The project has been controversial, with numerous area organizations and think tanks opposing it. Congress has yet to approve the project.

The funds would flow through GSA's Federal Buildings Fund, whose coffers are mainly filled via rent collections from federal agencies that occupy GSA-maintained buildings. GSA requested $300 million to augment the $8.1 billion fiscal 2009 building fund. Collected funds pay for leasing and maintaining office space, said GSA Budget Director Micah Cheatham. GSA must ask for appropriations to fund additional construction projects, such as the DHS headquarters project.

Kathleen Turco, GSA's chief financial officer, said the DHS headquarters project is the Bush administration's highest building priority. DHS officials have pushed since last summer for DHS to consolidate management operations at St. Elizabeths, a former mental health institution. DHS has its management operations spread over about 40 locations and 70 buildings in the Washington metropolitan region. Congress rejected DHS' request for consolidation last year, but DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff told reporters at a briefing Monday that he was optimistic it would pass this year.

Turco called the GSA budget submission "very straightforward. The overall budget holds true to the administration's freeze on general spending." Turco said that the Office of Management and Budget was "generous to our budget."

The discretionary spending request also includes $172 million for GSA operations and $8.5 million for presidential transition efforts. That includes $5.3 million for staffing and training for members of the incoming administration, $2.2 million to provide Bush with accommodations, a pension, office space and basic staffing - such as, a GSA official said, "someone to run his library." The remaining $1 million will pay for agencies to provide training and workshops as part of the transition.

GSA also requested $54 million for its Office of the Inspector General, which is a separate request form the discretionary budget. Other priorities include $59 million for the renovation of the San Ysidro port of entry in San Diego, Calif., the busiest land port of entry in the world;$78 million to consolidate the Food and Drug Administration's headquarters in Montgomery County, Md.; and $110 million for a federal courthouse in San Diego.

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