WASHINGTON – The completion of a consolidated Department of Homeland Security headquarters project at the St. Elizabeths West campus would improve our nation’s homeland security and save the federal government almost $1 billion, according to a new report released by Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Carper. Read the full report here: “Security and Savings: The Importance of Consolidating the Department of Homeland Security’s Headquarters at St. Elizabeths.”
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Congress passed the Homeland Security Act. The law pulled together 22 different agencies to form the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in order to foster a more unified and coordinated effort to defend our homeland. In 2006, the Bush administration proposed consolidating more than 50 DHS offices, many onto the St. Elizabeths campus in Southeast Washington, D.C. Construction began in 2009 but has significantly slowed in the face of inconsistent and inadequate funding from Congress.
Today, DHS still operates out of more than 50 separate facilities in the Washington, D.C. region, many of which are physically inadequate. The current infrastructure used to house DHS has made it much more difficult to implement the vision behind the Homeland Security Act and create the collaborative approach envisioned.
“In an era of shrinking budgets and economic uncertainty, figuring out which priorities to fund can be difficult,” said Chairman Carper. “It may be easier to cut long-term investments that have yet to bear fruit than to make tough decisions about other pressing priorities. However, as this report concludes, completing a consolidated headquarters for the Department will not only save nearly a billion taxpayer dollars, it will help our nation better prevent and respond to terrorist attacks and other disasters. Given its importance, the St. Elizabeths DHS consolidation project should remain a funding priority, and Congress and the Administration should come together on a plan to move forward with the project.”
The report, which draws from interviews with the Department’s former Secretaries—Tom Ridge, Michael Chertoff, and Janet Napolitano - and other top former Department officials, agency documents, and independent analysis found that Department at St. Elizabeths will improve DHS’s ability to carry out its mission. Specifically, consolidation would:
- Improve crisis management: DHS’s infrastructure has hindered crisis management and prevented personnel from easily collaborating. A consolidated DHS headquarters will make it easier for DHS personnel to meet, collaborate, and interact long before a crisis.
- Foster unity of effort: Few of the DHS missions fall on the shoulders of just one agency or component. The Department will more effectively carry out its mission if its components are working together in one location and complementing one another’s strengths and abilities;
- Improve morale and productivity: Well-designed and well-maintained facilities can not only improve morale, but also foster increased collaboration. Some Department of Homeland Security facilities, particularly those located at the Nebraska Avenue Complex, have subpar working conditions. For example, a recent issue with cleanliness and a rat infestation required closing the cafeteria;
- Reduce management challenges and travel inefficiencies: The continued development of St. Elizabeths and the consolidation of DHS from more than 50 facilities to 20 or fewer will reduce inefficiencies, freeing more resources for operations and giving senior officials more time to manage the Department and coordinate across components.
The report also found that finishing the consolidated DHS headquarters makes good fiscal sense, saving as much as a billion dollars over the next 30 years.
- The federal government would save nearly $700 million over 30 years by completing and moving DHS into a consolidated headquarters on a campus already owned by the government instead of renting equivalent space.
- New standards that would fit more employees in office space could allow DHS to save as much as $210 million more.
- Other cost avoidances include the estimated $132 million it would cost to maintain St. Elizabeths over the next 30 years (a historic property the federal government owns and must maintain) and overhead costs that can be cut due to administrative and operations efficiencies gained by the consolidation.
Based on these conclusions, the report recommends:
- Congress should fund the President’s fiscal year 2015 budget requests of $323 million combined for GSA and DHS to complete renovation of the St. Elizabeths Center Building Complex and provide necessary access road improvements. If this money is not appropriated it will leave the next phase of construction—the building for the Secretary and leadership staff—practicably unusable, wasting the $348 million already spent or appropriated for that building and forcing DHS to renew short-term leases.
- The Administration and Congress must continue to work together to implement more consolidation of the Department and its components at the St. Elizabeths campus as we move forward after fiscal year 2015. A revised plan is necessary to ensure the St. Elizabeths project is well managed and implemented. Congress must work to consistently and adequately fund the plan and engage in oversight to make sure the plan is managed appropriately. The St. Elizabeths project is important and must be done the right way.