Plans to build a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security have run up against fiscal reality. Construction is more than $1.5 billion over budget and 11 years behind schedule, and the project may never be completed, the Washington Post reported, based on budget documents and interviews with former and current federal officials. Plans include the renovation of more than 50 historic structures and the building of new ones on the west campus of a 336-acre site owned by St. Elizabeths Hospital, a psychiatric facility run by the District of Columbia Department of Mental Health. The district continues to treat patients at the hospital’s East Campus.
Originally pegged at a cost of less than $3 billion, the new headquarters were to be ready for occupation in 2015. The latest estimate is for the headquarters to open in 2026 at a cost of $4.5 billion. To reach that goal, Congress would have to appropriate an average $280 million a year, considerably more than the $190 million the project received this year.
“GSA and DHS haven’t received the appropriations that this project needs to keep it on its original schedule,” Mafara Hobson, a spokeswoman for the General Services Administration told the Post. “Construction is a commodity market, and costs increase with delays.”
So far only a Coast Guard building stands on the otherwise undeveloped federally owned land that is the former West Campus of the hospital. Planned as Washington’s biggest construction project since the completion of the Pentagon in 1943, the new DHS home was to be an economic development effort as well, one that would “provide a tremendous economic boost to the Anacostia and Congress Heights neighborhoods,” Bill Guerin, head of GSA’s Recovery Act Program Management Office told Congress in 2009. But with Congress facing budget deficits in the hundreds of billions each year, along with rising costs in military and entitlement programs and an ongoing crisis at the Veterans Administration, there is now open doubt over whether the project will ever be completed. Former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, who once called a consolidated headquarters for the department essential to its mission, now concedes it may lose in the competition of spending priorities.