Did you know that the US government’s third-largest agency is ramping up a 20-year, $US4.5 billion construction project that will turn the grounds of a former mental hospital into an “elaborate” headquarters for its sprawling network of agencies? It’s already a decade behind schedule and $US1 billion over budget.
In Bloomberg Businessweek, Devin Leonard describes his tour of the grounds of St Elizabeths Hospital, in Anacostia, Maryland (in the 1850s, it was known as “the Government Hospital for the Insane”). The 176-acre campus is scattered with abandoned buildings, some of which are completely rotted out, since someone forgot to turn the heat off when the last St Elizabeths patients were relocated in the 1960s.
It’s here that DHS — a rambling network of 22 different agencies, created in the aftermath of 9/11 — is building what it terms “its own Pentagon”. Indeed, the project is the largest federal construction project in D.C. since the Pentagon was completed. But critics question whether St Elizabeths’ will unify DHS the same way a single, Pentagon-esque building could have. Then there’s the sheer cost of gut-renovating dozens of turn-of-the-century buildings. According to Leonard:
Top picture: Library of Congress
[Project manager] Mills says that instead of seeking large sums of money for the headquarters, DHS has decided to ask Congress for smaller amounts so the project can slowly but steadily move forward. It has adjusted its schedule accordingly. The entire project, DHS now says, won’t be completed until 2026, a decade behind schedule… There’s no guarantee that the next stage of the project will be fully funded.
St. Elizabeths’ first new tenants — the Coast Guard — will move in this August. But the future of the rest of the project remains uncertain. It’s easy to imagine the site turning into a half-complete, Grey Gardens-esque metaphor for DHS itself.
Leonard, for his part, can’t resist making a few jokes about the similarities between St. Elizabeth’s old and new inhabitants. “[It's] increasingly apparent that DHS’s scheme to build its headquarters on the grounds of a former mental hospital is inherently flawed,” says Leonard. “Some would say it’s crazy.” [Bloomberg Businessweek]