Funds Cut for Homeland Security Headquarters

By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Congress has eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars requested by President Bush for 2008 to start building a giant headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security in the District, officials said yesterday.

The removal of the money from a $515.7 billion domestic spending bill was a setback to proponents of the project. One, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), said she was in talks to see if she could come up with funds elsewhere to preserve the plans for the western campus of the St. Elizabeths Hospital grounds in Anacostia.

But a senior federal official knowledgeable about the project said that if the money wasn't restored before a Senate vote on the bill, "the real possibility of making this [headquarters] a reality gets very dim." He spoke on condition of anonymity since the legislation hadn't gotten final approval.

The news about the St. Elizabeths project emerged after the House passed the spending bill late Monday, after a last-minute trimming of billions of dollars to avert a presidential veto. The bill was expected to pass the Senate with added funding for the Iraq war, and be signed by Bush.

The legislation provides hundreds of millions of dollars for the District. It includes the annual federal payment for D.C. courts, almost $224 million, as well as almost $48 million for defender services in family courts, according to a statement from Norton. It makes available $190 million to assist former prison inmates returning home to the city.

It also includes millions for schools, sewers, libraries and a new forensics lab, among other projects.

City leaders were heartened that the bill lifts a 9-year-old ban on using D.C. tax dollars to provide clean needles to drug addicts. The D.C. Health Department has promised to allocate $1 million in city funds for the new program in an effort to reduce the severity of the local AIDS epidemic.

The bill also will establish a quarter with an image representing the District, similar to coins commemorating the 50 states.

The cut in funding for the Homeland Security headquarters was perhaps the biggest surprise in decisions affecting the District.

Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.), head of the House appropriations subcommittee on homeland security, said the project was axed in order to reach the president's overall spending cap.

"Since the president proposed cutting or eliminating essential homeland security programs for first-responders, transit and rail security, and port security, we made a decision to rearrange the Homeland Security budget so that these important priorities were not shortchanged," Price said in a statement.

"That meant that some of the president's original budget priorities had to get cut, including the St. Elizabeths project."

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