Senator seeks DHS headquarters funding beyond continuing resolution levels

The Department of Homeland Security’s long-awaited new headquarters won’t be completed until at least 2021, but one of the project’s biggest champions in the Senate has urged Congress to hold up its end of the bargain once the current continuing resolution expires.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, urged Congress on Monday to stick to President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2017 budget plan for the St Elizabeths headquarters.

Now more than a decade in the works, the new DHS headquarters, located at the St Elizabeths campus in Southeast Washington, D.C. has two-thirds of the funding it needs from Congress. But if Congress falls short of the President’s funding goal, Carper said delayed construction costs could add an additional $70 million to the project.

“The headquarters consolidation project at St. Elizabeths is crucial to the success of the department and to realizing the unified, cohesive DHS envisioned by Congress when it created the department 14 years ago,” Carper said in a statement. “Bringing together key leadership and agency personnel in one, centralized location is critical to supporting DHS’s mission, reducing management challenges, and making the department’s operations more efficient.

It wouldn’t be the first time that the St Elizabeths project has fallen short on appropriations. In 2015, Obama proposed a scaled-back version of the original plan that cut $800 million and moved the finish date up to 2021, five years earlier than previous estimates.

In his FY 2017 budget request to Congress, Obama proposed $225.6 million for DHS and $266.6 million for the General Services Administration to build a new headquarters for the Federal Emergency Mangement Agency and renovate an existing building that will serve as office space for the secretary of Homeland Security and other top-ranking DHS leaders.

Following fiscal 2017, funding for the St Elizabeths campus needs to stay on-track for three more years in order to be completed by 2021. Once finished, Carper estimated that moving all of DHS’ agencies under one roof will save taxpayers $1.2 billion in leasing and operating costs within 30 years.

“Completion of the St. Elizabeths campus makes good financial and managerial sense and will build on recent efforts, including provisions passed in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act, to help make the department more than just the sum of its parts. Given its importance to the safety and security of all Americans, the completion of the St. Elizabeths consolidation project must remain a priority in the coming years for both Congress and the administration,” Carper said.

Earlier this month, Congress passed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government until April 28, in order to give the Senate time to hold confirmation hearings for President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks. If Congress doesn’t meet or exceed Obama’s request for the St. Elizabeths campus, Carper called on Congress to give DHS “maximum flexibility to make the most efficient use of the funding provided.”

The new campus already holds some new occupants. In 2013, the Coast Guard moved into its new St. Elizabeths headquarters, and officials project the next DHS secretary will be able to move into the new central headquarters by 2018.

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