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Ambitious DHS headquarters faces space concerns, shrinking budgets

Nov. 18, 2011 - 12:38PM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
The 11-story Coast Guard building cascades down a hillside, with some stories partially underground. The building -- and adjacent day care center (right) -- have green roofs to conserve energy and create green spaces for employees.
The 11-story Coast Guard building cascades down a hillside, with some stories partially underground. The building -- and adjacent day care center (right) -- have green roofs to conserve energy and create green spaces for employees. (Colin Kelly / Staff)

On the slope of a hill overlooking Southeast Washington, construction workers are busy laying foundation, erecting support beams and building out walls, courtyards and environmentally friendly roofs for the new Coast Guard headquarters.

The end result will be a new 1.1 million-square-foot complex at the western campus of the historic St. Elizabeths Hospital.

About 3,860 Coast Guard employees will work out of the 11-story building, complete with day care facility and parking garages.

The Coast Guard is on track to move into its new $435 million headquarters in 2013 as part of the first phase of the Department of Homeland Security's $3.4 billion effort to consolidate about 14,000 employees on the campus.

While DHS will be limited to 14,000 employees on campus at any given time, it is looking at telework, hoteling which assigns employees to cubicles on a daily basis, instead of permanently and other alternative work arrangements to raise the total number of people who report to the facility, according to Larry Orluskie, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman.

"We are studying our workforce plan to best figure out how to utilize the space," Orluskie said. He said DHS has not decided how many employees could be housed there.

But as Congress has slashed construction budgets and looks for more cuts in 2012, parts of the project beyond the first phase are in jeopardy.

DHS and the General Services Administration requested $668 million for the consolidation for fiscal 2011 but got $77 million 11 percent of the request.

For 2012, the agencies requested $376 million. The House legislation provides no money for the project; legislation produced by the Senate Appropriations Committee would provide $56 million.

DHS has relied mostly on $200 million in funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, as well as initial funds from the 2009 budget for construction so far and to complete the Coast Guard headquarters.

Delaying the rest of the project would cost millions of dollars a year and throw billions of dollars worth of contracts into flux.

DHS has also staked its ability to meet energy-efficiency and environmental goals on its consolidation at St. Elizabeths, including a mandate that 15 percent of its buildings meet federal environmental guidelines by fiscal year 2015.

As part of its move to the new campus, DHS also plans to consolidate about 115 leases in 60 buildings to about eight locations in the Washington area.

Elaine Duke, a former DHS undersecretary for management, said if the DHS move to the new campus is delayed it will not bring about the $600 million in savings over 30 years that DHS had hoped for when it planned its consolidation efforts.

"It's not going to bring the benefit of consolidation," Duke said. "It's not going to be saving DHS that money."

DHS spokesman Chris Ortman said the administration is committed to building a new headquarters for DHS in Washington and will work with Congress to fund the project.

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