Department of Homeland Security officials, in discussions with House lawmakers this week, made clear it does not currently have enough money in the operating budget to move to phase two of the construction plan for its new headquarters on the St. Elizabeths Campus in Washington, D.C.; nor does it have the funding to pay for a new National Bio and Agro Defense Facility (NBAF) on the campus of Kansas State University.
Both projects would require officials to take away from mission-critical programs to pay for the facilities. At the same time, the objectives which drove the planning for these facilities to begin remain. “One cannot conduct first rate research and development without modern labs and equipment,” said Tara O’Toole, the Under Secretary for the Science and Technology Directorate at DHS, during the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security hearing Wednesday. “But a fully capable lab that lacks the money to do research is not much use either.”
In 2013, the White House did not request any funding for St. Elizabeths beyond what is needed to finish construction of a new Coast Guard headquarters facility and for road improvements. GSA also didn’t receive any funding from Congress in 2012 for the construction effort.
DHS is now assessing options for future development at the campus in more reasonable segments of $300 million. The greatest drawback of this approach is the loss of time in consolidation of DHS people and components, currently spread among more than 40 buildings in the Washington, DC area. Drawing out the timeline could prove to be more costly, but possibly more manageable to clear through the budget process. According to lawmakers, consolidation of DHS remains a priority, particularly since many of the office leases for DHS components come up for renewal in 2016.
As for the NBAF facility, DHS held back on funding requests in the 2013 budget proposal while it awaited an updated NBAF Risk Assessment. With this report released in early March, the next step is a reassessment of the entire project given the current budget environment as to whether the existing Plum Island Animal Disease center or other facilities could be made to work. DHS recommendations on next steps are expected by June 2012.