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Coast Guard readies for August move to new headquarters

Rest of DHS consolidation project could take decades to complete, official says

Jun. 7, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By ANDY MEDICI   |   Comments
Coast Guard headquarters as seen from the south.
Coast Guard headquarters as seen from the south. (Tom Brown / Staff)
The green roof on the new Coast Guard headquarters building. / Tom Brown / Staff
The new dining hall will eventually be shared by all agencies moving to DHS headquarters site. / Tom Brown / Staff
The new food service area at the dining hall at the DHS headquarters. / Tom Brown / Staff
The parking garage at the new DHS headquarters. / Tom Brown / Staff
Two security fences surround DHS headquarters on the St. Elizabeth's Hospital campus. / Tom Brown / Staff
A renovated building at DHS headquarters on the St. Elizabeth's Hospital campus will house the Coast Guard historical office. / Tom Brown / Staff
The view of Washington, D.C,. from the new DHS headquarters on the St. Elizabeth's Hospital campus in Southeast Washington. / Tom Brown / Staff

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The Department of Homeland Security is putting the finishing touches on its new $435 million, 1.1 million-square-foot Coast Guard headquarters, in preparation for the move-in of 4,000 employees beginning Aug. 1.

But the rest of the department’s long-planned consolidation in southeast Washington remains in limbo. Only a few shared services facilities, such as a cafeteria and fitness center — intended for use by all DHS employees — will be ready when the Coast Guard moves in.

Jeffery Orner, the chief readiness support and senior real property officer at DHS, said the full project could take decades to complete if it is not funded properly.

“If budget reality forces us to do it at a slower phase, we could do it in a series of individual projects that could take 20 years or more,” Orner said.

The initial plan called for $3.45 billion to consolidate DHS operations on the site of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital campus by the end of fiscal 2016. But delays caused by congressional budget cuts have driven the cost of the project up to $4.06 billion and will drag completion out to fiscal 2022 at the earliest, according to department estimates.

The department originally planned to relocate more than 14,000 workers from more than 180 offices and reduce its leased offices in the Washington area to fewer than 12 by fiscal 2016, saving the agency millions of dollars.

But now DHS is beginning to renew its leases while working to reduce its overall space needs and lower costs, Orner said.

“We are trying to consolidate and reduce our footprint and if ultimately the project doesn’t get funded, that is still of value,” Orner said.

But DHS is also working with Congress to try and secure additional funding for the full project. Leaving the St Elizabeths project unfinished would be a “lost opportunity,” he said.

“To continue to operate in 50 some locations around the city just seems inefficient — it complicates acting like a single, one, coordinated DHS team,” Orner said. DHS has requested nearly $250 million for 2014 to renovate a St. Elizabeths building that would house DHS leadership.

Having all 22 DHS components sharing facilities on the same campus would save time and money, Orner said. DHS has estimated it could save hundreds of millions of dollars over 30 years if its consolidation is fully realized.

“I would like to ultimately be able to walk down the hallway and have conversations with my counterparts across the department, as opposed to scheduling a meeting and spending an hour getting across the city to sit down with them,” Orner said.

DHS and the General Services Administration, which manages the project’s construction, requested $668 million for the consolidation in fiscal 2011 but got $77 million — 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. For 2013, GSA was only authorized to spend $50 million for new construction and $280 million for renovations for all of its building projects.

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

Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini said the agency would do whatever it could to make the DHS project a reality but it requires significantly more funding. GSA has looked at using alternative financing to help fund the project but has been unable to find a solution that does not involve Congress directly funding the project.

“I don’t think there’s any replacement for direct appropriations to make that happen,” Tangherlini said.

Antonieta Rico contributed to this story.

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