The Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, chaired by U.S. Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo (R-NJ), held a hearing today to review the status of the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) headquarters consolidation project, including the relocation of the Coast Guard's headquarters to the St. Elizabeths Hospital campus.
Current facilities housing DHS and its component agencies are spread among more than 61 buildings in 40 locations in the Washington, D.C. area. DHS has prepared a National Capital Region Housing Master Plan to identify the housing needs of the Department, and found that a consolidation on a single campus would be beneficial to the Department. The General Services Administration (GSA) has determined the West Campus of the St. Elizabeths Hospital to be the only federally controlled site available in the District of Columbia capable of meeting the needs of DHS. The consolidation is planned to take place over the course of the next ten years. The first phase of the project would move the Coast Guard headquarters to the site, but no funds have been provided thus far to undertake any additional departmental consolidation.
The following is the statement of Chairman LoBiondo:
"The Subcommittee is meeting today to review the current plan to move Coast Guard Headquarters to the West Campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital in Anacostia.
"The Subcommittee has long had concerns with the plan to move Coast Guard headquarters to St. Elizabeths. Specifically, the Subcommittee has been concerned with the adequacy of access to the facility. Isolation of the Coast Guard if no other entities move to the campus. Any additional costs that would be borne by Coast Guard to move to the new facility and to support its operations. And, the impact those costs will have on the ability of the Service to conduct their critical missions.
"In our 2006 authorization bill for the Coast Guard, we prohibited the Service from moving until the General Services Administration (GSA) provided a plan that identified another Department of Homeland Security (DHS) agency that would be moving to St. Elizabeths around the same time as the Coast Guard, what improvements would be made to access the facility, and how the move would effect the Service's operations. The GSA provided that plan, but now due to funding constraints, it will not be followed.
"House appropriators have not provided funding in fiscal year 2012 to complete the new Coast Guard headquarters and Senate appropriators have provided what may be just enough to enable the Coast Guard to move, but no funding for construction for any other DHS component. And now the Secretary is saying she would rather spend her limited funding on front line operations than on the St. Elizabeths project. I wholeheartedly agree with her. However, we are concerned that position leaves the Coast Guard further in limbo.
"At our July 2011 hearing, the Subcommittee was informed that it could cost the Service over $54 million in fiscal year 2013 to move its headquarters, and that it could cost over $20 million annually in additional rent in each of the following years. In the current fiscal environment, those are significant numbers and they could have significant impact on the Service's front line operations.
"We all know the Coast Guard is hard pressed to meet its current mission goals. The Service has testified before this Committee that it lacked the manpower and the assets to effectively respond to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, or to conduct safety inspections of commercial vessels, or to continue to conduct port security operations at current tempos, or to upgrade housing for its servicemembers. The list goes on and on. Before the Service is forced to spend tens of millions of additional operating dollars on rent, perhaps we should focus on addressing these priorities.
"In addition to the cost and resource issues, there are several logistical issues complicating this move. There is currently insufficient road access to St. Elizabeths. The Department's consolidation plans call for construction of a new off ramp from I-295 because current access to St. Elizabeths is inconvenient and inadequate. Unfortunately, the construction of this off ramp is not planned until several years after the Coast Guard relocates to St. Elizabeths.
"In addition, there are several hundred less parking spaces available to Coast Guard personnel at St. Elizabeths than there are at the current headquarters location. This will force a vast number of personnel to rely on public transportation and contracted shuttle buses which may not be able to meet demand. I hope our witnesses will address these logistical issues.
"The Subcommittee does not oppose moving Coast Guard headquarters to St. Elizabeths. We understand the value in consolidating DHS headquarters in one location. However, the Subcommittee was promised by the previous administration that moving the Coast Guard would not unduly burden the Service financially, undermine its mission readiness, or leave it isolated at St. Elizabeths. Unfortunately, it appears as though our worst fears are coming true.
"Before this plan can move forward, the Department and the Service need to work out an arrangement that does not disrupt front line operations or leave the Service out there on its own. Otherwise we will be forced to take action to keep taxpayer dollars from being needlessly wasted, and to ensure that the Coast Guard stands ready to do its' job and protect the America people."