The Department of Homeland Security is abandoning its ambitious schedule to complete its headquarters in southeast Washington, D.C., seen here under construction last year. (Colin Kelly / Staff)
After encountering stiff resistance in Congress and in the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security is abandoning its ambitious schedule for building a new headquarters campus in southeast Washington.
DHS plans to complete a new project plan by Oct. 1 that will reduce the size of future budget requests and prioritize decisions on what to build first based on what is most critical for the project, according to department officials.
Congress has drastically cut funding for the project in the last two years — causing the department to delay the project's completion by five years. The latest setback was that President Obama's fiscal 2013 budget request also dramatically cut planned spending.
The president's 2013 budget seeks only $89 million in the DHS budget for the nearly $4 billion project. And for the General Services Administration, the budget seeks only $56 million for all GSA-sponsored construction projects, including the DHS headquarters.
GSA, which manages the project, and DHS would need at least $460 million in 2013 to avoid further delays and cost overruns, according to DHS estimates obtained by Federal Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Originally, the DHS headquarters plan carried a price tag of $3.45 billion and aimed to relocate 14,000 workers from more than 180 offices to the campus of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington by fiscal 2016. But, according to December projections, the project will cost at least $3.96 billion and won't be complete until the end of fiscal 2021, delaying the relocation of more than 10,000 workers by up to five years. Only the Coast Guard headquarters is expected to be completed on schedule in spring 2013.
DHS and GSA requested $668 million for the consolidation in 2011 but got $77 million — only 12 percent of the request.
For 2012, GSA requested $217 million for the project but received only $50 million for all of its new construction projects. DHS asked for $160 million but received only $56 million.
GSA has relied mostly on $200 million in funding from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, as well as funds from the 2009 budget, for the Coast Guard headquarters.
Other construction cuts
The DHS project isn't the only one in jeopardy. Under the administration's 2013 budget:
• The Defense Department would see construction funds fall 16 percent, from $11.3 billion to $9.5 billion.
• The National Park Service's construction budget would be cut 17 percent, from $159 million to $131 million, forcing it to delay renovations of park facilities and visitors centers.
• The Bureau of Indian Affairs would see its construction budget cut 15 percent, from $124 million to $106 million. Reductions are due to the fact that the agency already has made substantial progress in replacing aging educational facilities, according to the administration.
GSA's $56 million in funding for new construction — an increase of only $6 million from 2012 — would not be enough to fully fund the DHS project and other large-scale construction projects.
Also in jeopardy, for example, is work on a Food and Drug Administration site in White Oak, Md.
Congress first approved the effort to consolidate about 9,000 FDA employees into a single location in 1995, and GSA broke ground on the project about 10 years ago. The project was slated to be completed in 2013.
Marco Giamberardino, senior director of the federal and heavy construction division of the Associated General Contractors of Americal, said agencies have hit bottom on construction funding.
He said GSA's $56 million request for new construction is in line with the $50 million it received last year, but far below what it has received in previous years.
"If they were looking to avoid a fight with Congress, they are doing it right," Giamberardino said.
He said cuts to new construction will force agencies to rely on maintaining older properties.
"You have to make sure the inventory you have is upgraded because you are relying on it more," he said.
The administration's budget does include more funding for renovation projects. GSA would get a 76 percent increase in its renovation budget to $494 million. The Veterans Affairs Department would see a 26 percent jump to $607 million in its budget for smaller projects and renovations.
Although VA would see a 10 percent cut in its new-construction budget, some major projects would receive funding. Among them:
• New medical centers in Las Vegas, Denver and Orlando, Fla.
• $55 million toward a $222 million project to renovate older facilities and build a new facility specializing in mental health services at the Seattle VA medical center to deal with the growing number of patients.
• $177 million toward 600,000 square feet of replacement facilities for more than 10 buildings with seismic issues at the VA medical center in Palo Alto, Calif.