Oversight.gov scores funding in 2019 spending bill; DHS gets less for FEMA HQ

The comprehensive spending package will give Oversight.gov — a one-stop shop for inspectors general reports— the modest $2 million it requested last fall to...

The comprehensive spending package President Donald Trump signed into law Friday afternoon will give Oversight.gov — a one-stop shop for inspectors general reports— the modest $2 million it requested last fall to expand the website’s capabilities.

Michael Horowitz, Justice Department inspector general and chairman of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), in an interview last October, said the funding would likely go toward building out a checklist of outstanding IG recommendations for each agency, setting up a governmentwide inbox for whistleblowers tips and possibly hosting agency IG websites.

“CIGIE appreciates Congress’ continued support for Oversight.gov, and its confidence in the independent and objective oversight provided by federal inspectors general,” Horowitz said in an email Friday. “With this funding, Oversight.gov will be able to make even more information about government programs publicly accessible. That will undoubtedly pay dividends, because with greater transparency comes greater accountability.”

St. Elizabeths project gets less than requested

The spending bill sets aside $120 million for the Department of Homeland Security’s consolidated headquarters project at the St. Elizabeths location in southeast Washington, D.C.

That top-line number falls short of the $181 million the Senate Appropriation Committee planned to give DHS and the General Services Administration for the project in its package of spending bills last summer.

It also falls short of the $171.1 million DHS requested to build a new Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) headquarters at the St. E’s campus.

At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing last April, GSA and DHS officials told lawmakers they’d gone back to the drawing board to create a new St. E’s timetable that factors in budget shortfalls and delays in construction, and expected to complete a new master plan for the project before the end of calendar year 2018.

However, the 35-day partial government shutdown contributed to the agencies missing the deadline to submit that plan.

Under the old St. E’s plan, GSA and DHS expected to receive full funding for a new FEMA headquarters in fiscal 2017, but Congress didn’t meet the agencies’ funding request in the fiscal 2017 or 2018 spending bills.

The lack of full funding for FEMA created a domino effect for other DHS components: Immigration and Customs Enforcement should have received full funding for its headquarters in fiscal 2018, and Customs and Border Protection should’ve gotten its funding in fiscal 2019, but both of those projects have yet to move forward.

The spending bill gives GSA nearly $959 million for construction and acquisition — short of the $1.34 billion it had requested. Had it received its full FY 2019 budget request, GSA expected to invest an additional $229 million into St. E’s construction.

At least 30 days prior to using the funds outlined in the spending bill, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and GSA Administrator Emily Murphy must give the House and Senate appropriations committees a “detailed plan” outlining the proposed use of the funds for the long-standing consolidation project.

DHS confirmed to Federal News Network last November that Nielsen would move her office to the Center Building on the St. E’s campus this spring.

Lawmakers show ‘concerns’ with direction of FBI headquarters plan

The FY 2019 spending bill still offers no funding for a future FBI headquarters, “due to concerns” lawmakers have about the direction the project has taken.

“There is reluctance to appropriate any additional funds for this project due to the unanswered questions regarding the new plan, including the revision of longstanding mission and security requirements,” according to a joint explanatory statement provided by House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) describing the spending agreement.

Congress, per the joint explanatory statement, has urged GSA to work with the FBI to submit a new prospectus for “a new, fully consolidated headquarters building,” that meets strict security requirements — and reconsider moving the FBI headquarters to one of three previously vetted sites in suburban Maryland and Virginia.

In the year since GSA announced its plan to tear down the crumbling J. Edgar Hoover building in Washington and build a modern headquarters in its place, House Democrats and independent watchdogs have scrutinized the decision.

House Democrats, since gaining the majority in January, have made it clear they intend to further scrutinize decisions behind the FBI headquarters project.

The House Appropriations Committee scheduled on Feb. 12, and later postponed, a hearing on “administrative and management challenges” at GSA’s Public Buildings Service.

Last summer, GSA and its IG butted heads over the release of a strongly worded IG report, in which auditors claimed Murphy omitted key details in her testimony to Congress about the White House’s involvement in the decision to keep the FBI’s headquarters in D.C.

GSA, for its part, contends that FBI Director Chris Wray made the decision to keep the FBI in Washington, close to the Justice Department’s headquarters.

Two months out from the spending bill’s passage, GSA must also provide Congress with a report on its Energy Savings Performance contract spending between 2014 and 2018, as well as it projections for 2019 and 2020.

The spending agreement allows GSA to spend nearly $9.3 billion total for the Federal Buildings Fund — short of the $10.3 billion the agency requested.

“Anything less means the agency will be unable to fund necessary repairs and improvements to the GSA inventory, which reduces the value of the public’s assets over time, results in unnecessary costs due to repairs, and missed opportunities to improve efficiency through the consolidations of space,” the agency wrote in its FY 2019 budget request. 

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