Almost lost in the continuous news stories of the damage delivered by Hurricane Harvey (and the heroic way that private citizens and government officials were responding to it) were two stories that may have a significant impact on the operations of the Department of Homeland Security for at least two decades to come. I refer to the decisions by General Services Administration (GSA) and DHS to authorize new headquarters buildings for two of the larger DHS components, TSA and USCIS.

In the case of TSA, a new 625,000 sq. ft. building will be constructed near the metro station in Springfield, Virginia, adjacent to GSA property that many believed would be an ideal location for a new FBI headquarters. TSA will lease the new building for 15 years, with additional 5-year options. The USCIS headquarters building will have a bit more than 500,000 sq. ft., which GSA leased for a minimum of 15 years at One Town Center in Camp Springs, Maryland (near the Branch Avenue Metro Station), according to the USCIS press release last week.

The decisions appear to put a kink in the plans of those who wanted to move DHS’ headquarters and components to the St. Elizabeth’s campus in southeast DC. The Trump Administration FY18 budget recommended funding to move FEMA to St. E’s (as it is called) when its lease expires, as well as a small amount for overall facilities planning. As Federal News Radio’s Jason Miller noted:

“The fact GSA signed a 15-year lease leaves one to wonder about the status of the Homeland Security Department’s headquarters consolidation project at the St. Elizabeth’s campus in Washington.
“According to GSA’s 2015 prospectus, TSA was part of Phase 3 along with the Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement directorates.
“GSA estimated Phase 3 would cost $629 million and be completed by 2026, which is less than 15 years from now.”

As Congress comes back to town this week to deal with a range of politically thorny issues, such as the debt ceiling, Hurricane Harvey recovery and the overall FY18 budget, someone on the Hill needs to ask a few questions about what is going to happen at St. Elizabeth’s. Is the real estate market so soft in DC that signing long-term leases in a location away from St. E’s will save DHS significant money in the long run? Is it better to build a new headquarters’ building, like TSA is doing, or is it smarter to lease existing buildings, like USCIS has done? Given the money FEMA will need to respond to Hurricane Harvey (and who knows what will happen if Hurricane Irma hits the United States with the ferocious intensity that some are predicting), can they get a better deal by finding a lease that will save them money over a new facility at St. E’s?

There are lots of questions that will be asked about DHS budget in the coming weeks. I hope that at least one or two will be about how the previous discussion of consolidation at St. E’s appears to be changing.

David Olive focuses his blogging primarily on the “business of homeland security” — the interaction of the private sector with the Department of Homeland Security and other national security agencies. Read More