A political tug-of-war over the planned $3.9 billion consolidation of the Department of Homeland Security continued Wednesday when President Obama proposed $367 million to continue building the project.
The first phase of the project, a 1.2 million-square-foot headquarters for the U.S. Coast Guard, is nearly complete and ready for occupancy.
But beyond that the administration and Republican members of the House have differed over how to move forward. Construction beyond the Coast Guard building has ground to a halt, leaving the rest of the campus in Southeast D.C. vacant save for empty brick hospital buildings.
The president’s 2014 budget proposal would inject nearly $262 million into the construction budget of the General Services Administration for the project and $105 million into the DHS budget for relocation costs. The president included another $9.8 million for the D.C government to use toward redeveloping the east campus, where Mayor Vincent C. Gray is planning a mixed-use development.
In the past, Republican members of the House have railed against the St. Elizabeths project — and even DHS itself — as wasteful. Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees the GSA, declined to comment on the St. Elizabeths proposals in the president’s budget.
GSA acting administrator Dan Tangherlini is pursuing a land swap to try to find a new home for the FBI without asking for appropriations and he has considered alternative strategies for St. Elizabeths as well.
But he said in a conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon that the St. Elizabeths project needed to be funded up front and that it would result in long-term savings for the government.
“This is a program that’s been developed and supported by two administrations…I just think the issue has really been resources and whether we can get the resources together to continue making the investment,” he said.
He acknowledged some difficulty in getting money up front to save money in the long-term. “We’re going to have to work very closely with our partners in Congress,” he said.
The GSA is waging a similar battle to find funding for projects around the country. The president’s budget includes a total of $2.1 billion for repair and construction projects and another $100 million to allow for agency consolidation.
“We think we have a good case and a good story in all these instances why we think long term these will save the government money,” Tangherlini said.
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