Homeland Security likely to remain homeless

Rosslyn Smith
When the Department of Homeland Security was created in the aftermath of 9/11 the question quickly arose where to permanently house this huge new department.  In 2007, in a move that seems completely tone deaf to irony, the decision was made to renovate the West Campus of St. Elizabeth's Psychiatric Hospital as the new DHS headquarters.

First opened in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane, and now a historic landmark, St. Elizabeth's campus has a panoramic view of the District.  It was the site that best met the size and the security parameters for the project, which was initially projected to be completed as soon as 2010.  That date was quickly pushed back several years.  To date, the efforts to renovate St. Elizabeth's have proven to be an expensive disaster with no end in sight.  Tuesday's Washington Post notes

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.

The Post article also notes:

Instead, with the exception of a Coast Guard building that opened last year, the grounds remain entirely undeveloped, with the occasional deer grazing amid the vacant Gothic Revival-style structures. The budget has ballooned to $4.5 billion, with completion pushed back to 2026. Even now, as Obama administration officials make the best of their limited funding, they have started design work for a second building that congressional aides and others familiar with the project say may never open.

No matter what one thinks of the Department of Homeland Security, the issue here is the seeming inability of the federal government to complete its projects in a timely manner and within budget.  A new headquarters for DHS was touted as the federal government's largest single construction project since the Pentagon was built.  For comparison purposes, the Pentagon project was first proposed in late Spring, 1941, ground was broken on September 11, 1941 and the building was dedicated on January 15, 1943.   It took mere weeks both to find a site, develop plans and get all the necessary approvals and appropriations.  There was a functioning building -- the world's biggest office building at the time -- in a little over 18 months. 

By comparison it took years for DHS to pick a site and twice the construction time just to get all the agencies involved to sign off.  These webs of overlapping jurisdictions and approvals also hamper private sector development projects.  We have gone from a "can do" to a "not without my approval" nation. 

When the Department of Homeland Security was created in the aftermath of 9/11 the question quickly arose where to permanently house this huge new department.  In 2007, in a move that seems completely tone deaf to irony, the decision was made to renovate the West Campus of St. Elizabeth's Psychiatric Hospital as the new DHS headquarters.

First opened in 1855 as the Government Hospital for the Insane, and now a historic landmark, St. Elizabeth's campus has a panoramic view of the District.  It was the site that best met the size and the security parameters for the project, which was initially projected to be completed as soon as 2010.  That date was quickly pushed back several years.  To date, the efforts to renovate St. Elizabeth's have proven to be an expensive disaster with no end in sight.  Tuesday's Washington Post notes

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.

The Post article also notes:

Instead, with the exception of a Coast Guard building that opened last year, the grounds remain entirely undeveloped, with the occasional deer grazing amid the vacant Gothic Revival-style structures. The budget has ballooned to $4.5 billion, with completion pushed back to 2026. Even now, as Obama administration officials make the best of their limited funding, they have started design work for a second building that congressional aides and others familiar with the project say may never open.

No matter what one thinks of the Department of Homeland Security, the issue here is the seeming inability of the federal government to complete its projects in a timely manner and within budget.  A new headquarters for DHS was touted as the federal government's largest single construction project since the Pentagon was built.  For comparison purposes, the Pentagon project was first proposed in late Spring, 1941, ground was broken on September 11, 1941 and the building was dedicated on January 15, 1943.   It took mere weeks both to find a site, develop plans and get all the necessary approvals and appropriations.  There was a functioning building -- the world's biggest office building at the time -- in a little over 18 months. 

By comparison it took years for DHS to pick a site and twice the construction time just to get all the agencies involved to sign off.  These webs of overlapping jurisdictions and approvals also hamper private sector development projects.  We have gone from a "can do" to a "not without my approval" nation.