DHS now envisions 3 new buildings on St. Elizabeths campus, with 2026 completion deadline

The Department of Homeland Security told House lawmakers last week it wants to build three new buildings, including a new facility for the newly renamed Cyberse...

The Department of Homeland Security now envisions it’ll complete its consolidated headquarters project at the St. Elizabeth’s by 2026, if its plans to demolish five historic buildings on the campus goes without a hitch.

The General Services Administration has proposed demolishing five historic buildings on the campus in order to make room for three DHS new buildings at St. E’s.

“What we’re looking to do is build three more buildings out there,” Chip Fulghum, DHS’ deputy undersecretary for management, told a House Homeland Security subcommittee last week. “That’s what we have an agreement to do. We don’t want any more adaptive reuse, because… it costs too much and we lost too much square footage.”

The exact details behind St. E’s consolidation are still unclear. The department initially told House lawmakers it would draft a third master consolidation plan by the end of the 2018, but the report is late.

Fulghum, however, did provide a few more details. He said a National Capital Region consolidation study should be finished by June.

In its most recent budget request, DHS asked for $224 million to outfit a new facility for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) on the St. E’s campus. The newly renamed cybersecurity agency is currently situated in at least eight different locations, and it makes sense for DHS to consolidate them, Fulghum said.

DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis, which is currently located at the department’s Nebraska Ave. location in Washington, D.C., will move to St. E’s next. Fulghum said the department plans to ask for funds to move the intelligence unit as part of the 2021 budget request.

Once the DHS intelligence unit moves, the department can turn the Nebraska Ave. building over to GSA, he added.

DHS’ Office of the Secretary and executive management have been moving to the St. E’s campus in recent days. The move should be finished by the end of the month, Fulghum said. All told, this phase of the DHS consolidation will bring an additional 1,000 employees to the St. E’s campus, in addition to the 3,700 Coast Guard headquarters staff already working at the site.

DHS was initially supposed to finish the consolidated headquarters project back in 2016, but a combination of scheduling overruns and unfilled budget requests from Congress has pushed the timeline back.

Congress, meanwhile, sees these scheduling overruns as a common theme across several other major DHS projects, which has contributed to the department’s consistent spot on the Government Accountability Office’s High-Risk List.

“I don’t want to discredit these projects or their performance, but I would like to see evidence that the department has learned from its past mistakes and is better positioned in the future,” Rep. Xochtil Torres Small (D-N.M.), chairman of the Homeland Security Oversight, Management and Accountability Subcommittee, said.

GAO first placed DHS on its High-Risk List when the department first opened its doors back in 2003.

“There has been tremendous progress,” said Chris Currie, director of GAO’s homeland security and justice team. “At GAO we manage 30 high-risk areas across government, from defense programs to DHS to healthcare. There is not a department that’s more committed to addressing high-risk issues than DHS, and part of that has to do with their leadership, including Mr. Fulghum. They have a very humble, committed approach to this, rather than a defensive posture, and that makes all the difference in the world.”

It identified 30 areas the department needed to address in order to leave the High-Risk List. DHS has addressed 17 of them so far as has started work on all of them, Currie said.

“We’re down to some of the really challenges, though, and that’s what’s keeping them on the High-Risk List,” he said.

DHS widens its view of employee engagement

Human capital is one of those challenging issues.

The department has struggled with employee engagement over the past several years but broke six consecutive years of declining engagement scores and improved for the second consecutive year in 2018 on the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey and the Partnership for Public Service’s Best Places to Work rankings.

Still, the department ranks last among agencies of its size.

Fulghum said each of DHS’ components have their own specific employee engagement action plans, and a council reviews their progress at a meeting each month.

The department as a whole is focused on reducing stress in the workplace and improving family readiness.

“One of the key aspects that we’ve uncovered in our analysis is it’s not just about the employee,” Fulghum said. “It’s about the family members.”

DHS is exploring whether it can develop its child care program for employees who work odd hours — or whether it can partners and join the Federal Aviation Administration’s already existing program.

Some DHS components such as the Secret Service have money in their 2020 budgets for child care subsidies.

In addition, the recent government shutdown reinforced that DHS’ belief that its employees wanted financial literacy guidance.

“Folks are really struggling,'” Fulghum said . “It’s another contributor to stress, so we have a campaign underway to educate folks are what tools are out there… to help them adequately manage their resources.”

Financial management modernization

DHS in 2020 asking for $120 million for financial management systems modernization. Much of it would fund ongoing financial systems consolidation at the Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction Office, Transportation Security Administration and Coast Guard. The additional funds would also allow DHS to begin modernizing FEMA’s systems.

The original plan was to migrate TSA to the system by 2019 and the Coast Guard by 2020. The recent government shutdown, however, pushed the department’s timeline back, Fulghum said.

“We would be forced to migrate TSA in the middle of the fiscal year with thousands of open transactions,” he said. “That creates too much audit risk, so we’ll delay the migration another six months. [It] should not be a big cost impact, and the Coast Guard will still come up in 2020.”

Fulghum is leaving government next month to join the San Antonio-based non-profit, Endeavors. The non-profit provides programs and services for children, families and veterans who struggling with a mental illness.

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