Correction:

An earlier version of this article did not account for $35 million of the appropriations bill’s total funding for the Department of Homeland Security headquarters project. The story has been updated to reflect the correct amount.

Spending bill short on funding for Homeland Security headquarters

The spending measure that House lawmakers approved Wednesday would restrict funding for a new Department of Homeland Security headquarters in Southeast Washington, providing nearly $164 million less than the agencies overseeing the project requested for 2014.

The approach is part of what the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee described in its bill summary as “responsible choices to save taxpayer dollars by reducing overhead costs and cutting funding for lower-priority programs.”

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Lawmakers spent only an hour debating the more-than 1,500-page agreement.

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DHS, now 11 years old and the third-largest department in the federal government, operates without a consolidated headquarters. Its facilities are spread across 50 locations throughout the Washington region.

In 2008, Congress approved the creation of a single campus at St. Elizabeths, a former government-run mental hospital in the Anacostia neighborhood now designated as a national historical landmark. Only the first phase of the project has been completed, with a Coast Guard headquarters opening last July.

DHS is relying on short-term leases for its various other agencies while waiting for the full build-out of its main campus.

For 2014, the General Services Administration and DHS requested a combined $354 million to continue the St. Elizabeths development. But the appropriations bill would provide only $190 million for that purpose.

The headquarters project has encountered problems in recent years. A congressional report said the development is running 10 years behind schedule — it was originally supposed to be completed in 2016, but the date has been pushed to 2026 — and that construction delays have increased the cost by $1 billion, or about 30 percent.

The analysis, from a subcommittee of the House Homeland Security Committee, questions why DHS has not conducted a major reassessment of its plans or considered a new approach to consolidation. It suggests that options such as increased telework could help the department cut down on the 4.5 million square feet of space it estimated needing for the headquarters in 2006.

The subcommittee report said Homeland Security and the GSA have continuously received less than their original appropriations requests for the development, forcing them to adjust their expectations for costs and completion dates. Most of the funding came from the 2009 economic stimulus measure known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office is conducting a separate review to determine how well the GSA and DHS adhered to best practices when estimating costs, laying out project requirements and analyzing alternative plans, according to GAO spokesman Charles Young.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.), who chairs the subcommittee, called for a “reality check” on the project last week, saying in a statement: “With our nation $17 trillion in debt, we cannot afford waste and frivolous spending.”

But Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), the ranking Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, accused GOP lawmakers of trying to have it both ways with the headquarters development. “They criticize this project but fail to mention the fact that the Republican majority significantly cut funding for it numerous times — thus severely hampering its progress and increasing its costs,” he said.

 
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