DHS Headquarters Consolidation At Risk of Getting Even More Behind Schedule

Flickr user E.L. Malvaney

The long-delayed post-9/11 consolidation of Homeland Security Department offices on the St. Elizabeths Southeast Washington campus is threatened with further holdups, according to early indicators in the fiscal 2015 appropriations process.

Though no floor votes have been taken, the House Appropriations Committee’s version of the Homeland Security spending bill would zero out President Obama’s March budget request of $73 million in budget authority. The bill cleared the appropriations panel on June 11.

In the report accompanying the bill, the Republican-controlled committee cited “the constraints of the current budget environment and the flawed and unjustified reductions to the department's operational components and frontline personnel within the president's fiscal year 2015 budget request for DHS.”

If the House provision becomes law this fall, the DHS Chief Readiness Support Officer would need to update appropriators no later than 30 days after enactment “on the plan for obligation and expenditure of prior year appropriations for this project and provide an updated analysis of alternatives for the project that fully considers the costs and benefits of its scope within a fiscal environment that is substantially constrained,” the panel wrote.

The project received $35 million for fiscal 2014.

The Senate panel’s version approved June 24 would provide $48.6 million for headquarters and mission support consolidation, provided that the Homeland Security undersecretary for management submits “an expenditure plan no later than 90 days after the date of enactment of this act detailing how these funds will be allocated, including a revised schedule and cost estimates for headquarters consolidation. Quarterly briefings are required on headquarters and mission support consolidation activities, including any deviation from the expenditure. ”

Once the full House and Senate pass the bill, the two versions will need to be reconciled before any spending levels will be final. It looks increasingly likely that appropriations legislation might be combined into an omnibus measure this year, given the tight timeline for passing them individually before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

A study by The Washington Post last year estimated that the project is 11 years behind schedule and would require $280 million a year to meet revised timelines. So far only the Coast Guard has moved in to the new campus.

The General Services Administration, which is in charge of the consolidation intended to include the secretary’s offices and most DHS components, said in a statement, "The administration is committed to consolidating 50 different DHS offices into one location at St. Elizabeths. This is one of the largest federal construction projects undertaken since the Pentagon. GSA has received bipartisan support since the creation of DHS to build a campus that would allow the agency to fulfill its important mission. GSA needs the proper funding to complete what we've started and to deliver the project on time and on budget. More funding delays mean that the project will become more costly over time.”

Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, told Government Executive, “The Senate DHS Appropriations mark, approved unanimously by the committee in June, includes funding to continue development of St. Elizabeths, including moving the secretary there, consistent with the project’s prioritization by the GSA and without denigrating current agency operations.”

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