Today’s Washington Post features a story, (‘Planning Agency Approves Homeland Security Complex’) that bodes well for the future of DHS.  After years of debate, legal wrangling and what I will diplomatically call, ‘perpetual foot dragging,’ DHS may finally be getting a real place to call ‘home.’

To anyone who has ever had the pleasure of working at (or even visiting) the Department’s current headquarters facility in upper Northwest Washington (the ‘NAC’ – Nebraska Avenue Complex), the thought of having a decent, let alone respectable, place where you can work at your desk; host outside visitors for meetings; assemble in a conference room (if you can find one)); and have reasonable access to parking and public transportation is an everyday challenge.

DHS Deputy Secretary Paul Schneider in a Congressional hearing this past year told House Members point blank that the Department’s facilities were a “dump.” It was probably the most polite four-letter word he could use to describe the NAC without fear of a Contempt Resolution or arrest but he was dead on right.

DHS’ move to the grounds of the old St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Anacostia will allow for the further integration of the various components of the Department to become the integrated and unified team we want and need them to become.

At the present time, the Department has its component headquarters spread all over downtown DC while its top executive leadership, support offices and personnel operate out of facility that would probably make a North Korean prison camp look like a three-star hotel.

For those who were part of DHS’ early days at the NAC, the character of the facility, lent itself to working through the enormity of the challenges to be addressed.  Everyone was part of a quickly-assembled, makeshift enterprise that had to work through a ton of challenges to safeguard the country.

The charm and lore of those early NAC days (e.g., lack of physical space to meet/operate; poor and often inoperable heating, cooling and plumbing systems; decrepit/deteriorating physical structures with mold – and other biological organisms – growing in walls and carpeting) have long worn off.  The fact it has taken this many years to get to this decision on a future DHS Headquarters is beyond frustration and embarrassment.

The irony of locating DHS on the grounds of an old psychiatric hospital is not lost on me either (or many others who follow the Department closely), but as the Obama Team is putting forward its swath of infrastructure re-investment proposals to ‘rebuild America,’ putting a real, respectable, and operable DHS headquarters is an item for the ‘MUST DO’ list.

We’ve spent over five years making excuses to allow the existing headquarters to continue.

We’ve also applied all the duct tape and disinfectant to the NAC that we can.

It’s time to make a real DHS Headquarters a priority.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More