Yesterday’s Washington Post dumps an Olympic-size swimming pool’s worth of cold water on the future of a (relatively) consolidated headquarters for DHS at the St. Elizabeth site in Southeast D.C.:
The construction of a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington, is running more than $1.5 billion over budget, is 11 years behind schedule and may never be completed, according to planning documents and federal officials.
It has been a bipartisan affair:
A decade after work began, the St. Elizabeths venture — the capital region’s largest planned construction project since the Pentagon — has become a monumental example of Washington inefficiency and drift. Bedeviled by partisan brawling, it has been starved of funds by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress and received only lackluster support from the Obama administration, according to budget documents and interviews with current and former federal officials.
Delays are only making the final price tag rise:
The crippling shortfall in funding has created a vicious cycle, causing delays that in turn inflated the projected price tag as construction costs escalated over time and DHS agencies — still scattered in more than 50 locations across the Washington area — have been signing expensive temporary leases.
The article is full of details regarding difficulties connected with the site. Also, interesting to at least me, it deploys two narratives about DHS.
The DHS was born at a time when the wounds of Sept. 11 were still fresh and homeland security was the top national priority. The new department melded agencies as diverse as the Secret Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, aiming to eliminate gaps in coordination and poor communication that had helped make possible the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
By 2004, department officials were complaining that their headquarters on Nebraska Avenue in the District was one-quarter of the size needed. The operations center was small, with limited infrastructure. And with various DHS components dispersed as far as Herndon, Va., the department was wasting millions on leased office space and transportation costs.
These logistical problems slowed the government response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and to a 2006 terrorist plot to blow up transatlantic airliners with liquid explosives, Chertoff recalled. “People were shuttling back and forth in those critical days after the plot was exposed, and that just made it much more difficult and time-consuming,” he said.
Most of the poor communication and coordination gaps preceding 9/11 existed between agencies not included in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. To over simplify things, the intelligence community and the military take the lead in fighting terrorism overseas and the FBI generally is out front domestically. Not to take one iota of importance away from the work of DHS, but it does not get much positive Congressional attention as those entities unless it is politically convenient. And spending billions of dollars on a new headquarters complex for DHS is currently not very politically convenient. Want to bet that the FBI will get a new building before DHS?
The comments regarding logistical problems affecting the Katrina response and the response to the airliner plot are new to me. I think its a given that having offices spread out over the DC area didn’t make things any easier, but is it a stretch to suggest that the response in New Orleans would have gone that much smoother if only there was a unified headquarters building?