The Homeland Security Cathedral Headquarters

I sense a metaphor, or three. From the Washington Post:

The construction of a massive new headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, billed as critical for national security and the revitalization of Southeast Washington, is running more than $1.5 billion over budget, is 11 years behind schedule and may never be completed, according to planning documents and federal officials.

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the George W. Bush administration called for a new, centralized headquarters to strengthen the department’s ability to coordinate the fight against terrorism and respond to natural disasters. More than 50 historic buildings would be renovated and new ones erected on the grounds of St. Elizabeths, a onetime insane asylum with a panoramic view of the District.

The entire complex was to be finished as early as this year, at a cost of less than $3 billion, according to the initial plan.

Instead, with the exception of a Coast Guard building that opened last year, the grounds remain entirely undeveloped, with the occasional deer grazing amid the vacant Gothic Revival-style structures. The budget has ballooned to $4.5 billion, with completion pushed back to 2026. Even now, as Obama administration officials make the best of their limited funding, they have started design work for a second building that congressional aides and others familiar with the project say may never open…

I’m sure the DHS could use more coordination, but with moden advances in videoconferencing and online integration, is putting “about 14,000 DHS employees” into a centralized campus of fifty-plus historically-relevant buildings really the best way to achieve this?

… During initial planning for the building to house the offices of the homeland security secretary several years ago, DHS officials raised concerns with the GSA, people familiar with the episode recounted. In the blueprint, employees with lower security clearances would have to pass through a high-security area to move around the rest of building. The DHS said this could not be allowed and asked the GSA to build a million-dollar addition to accommodate the employees with the lower clearances. The GSA balked. Tensions mounted.

The dispute was resolved by reorganizing the layout so employees with the same clearance level work in the same part of the building.

“It took a while to work through that,’’ recalled a person familiar with the project…

Well, that certainly bodes well for the final results. Maybe it’s just having grown up reading too much Catholic history during a contentious period, but I can’t help envisioning this project as an all-American analog to Vatican City — a wholly political solution to what was presented as a purely theological issue.

49 replies
  1. 1
    NotMax says:

    Hands down most eye-catching name on any of the ballots on Tuesday was in the Oregon Dem gubernatorial primary, where extremely long-shot Ifeanyichukwu Diru was listed.

  2. 2
    Steeplejack (tablet) says:

    The Panopticon. And on the grounds of an insane asylum. How appropriate.

  3. 3
    NotMax says:

    As with the Mayans, only the high priests and a closely controlled retinue are permitted access to the inner sanctum.

    And as with the Mayans, the high priests are expected, nay required, to appear in public from time to time to present the assembled masses with something bloody.

  4. 4
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    Egyptologists working from inscriptions on site estimate that it took 10-20 years to build the Great Pyramid of Giza. If those ancient Egyptians had the benefit of modern equipment, DHS’ superb organizational skills and its obvious genius at hiring contractors the Great Pyramid would have taken only 150 years to complete.

  5. 5
    wasabi gasp says:

    Sometimes we have a little high priest in each of us. Like now.

    [trigger warning: more and new]
    Fuckaine – Hooray

  6. 6
    Joel Hanes says:

    Everything old is new again.

    2007: “The United States has been building large, expensive and long-lasting military bases in Iraq as well as an enormous new embassy complex”

    One can make many friends/contractors/henchmen very wealthy in a very short time if one is willing to build huge projects. Whether or not those projects are useful is rather beside the point.

  7. 7
    Higgs Boson's Mate says:

    It’s not possible for me to have any confidence in an agency that is 50% over budget and which is a decade or more behind schedule on it’s own headquarters. If The Big One was to shake California tomorrow I have the feeling that I’d die of old age before we received any meaningful help from this aggregation of Bozos.

  8. 8
    JGabriel says:

    OT, but I can’t help noticing the Newsmax headline to the right that says: 31,072 Scientists Agree Climate Change ‘Unsettled’.

    So, I looked into it. It’s an article about a shady looking website calling itself the Petition Project. According the PP’s home page, they have 31, 487 signatures. All scientists? Well, no. Only 9,029 have PhD’s.

    And according to their own page on the Qualifications of the Signers, only 39 of the petition signers are “climatologists”. I put it in quotes because there’s no breakdown of how many of them PhD’s or are doing active research in climatolgy.

    So, out of 31,487 signatures of self-identified, so-called scientists – less than a third of whom claim to have a PhD – only 39 (who may not even have a PhD) claim to be actual climatologists, and even that number is suspicious, with no evidence of their qualifications other than their say so.

    Just wanted to get that out there, so anyone who hears about it from their wingnut relatives or friends has some info to push back with.

  9. 9
    bago says:

    The Triskelion is running into problems? Who knew?

  10. 10
    JGabriel says:

    From the (Anti-)Global Warming Petition Project’s FAQ:

    7. Are any of the listed signers dead?

    In a group of more than 30,000 people, deaths are a frequent occurrence. The Petition Project has no comprehensive method by which it is notified about deaths of signatories. When we do learn of a death, an “*” is placed beside the name of the signatory. For examples, Edward Teller, Arnold Beckman, Philip Abelson, William Nierenberg, and Martin Kamen are American scientists who signed the Petition and are now deceased.

    So there are least five scientists who are dead, and may have removed their signature had they the chance to review the latest research. Edward Teller, H-Bomb advocate, died in 2003. That’s 11 years of research since his death. And that assuming his signature is even real, given that Teller hasn’t been around, for over a decade, to contest it if it were not.

    From the same page:

    Thousands of signatures were gathered in a campaign during 1998-1999. Between 1999 and 2007, the list of petition signatories grew gradually, without a special campaign. Between October 2007 and March 2008, a new campaign for signatures was initiated. The majority of the current listed signatories signed or re-signed the petition after October 2007.

    Right. Unless, you know, they were inconveniently dead.

    Of course, Newsmax, et. al., are coming out with this now in order to distract from, or counteract, the latest news about the ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic melting.


  11. 11
    JGabriel says:

    There’s more information at Wikipedia, Oregon Petition (aka Petition Project), which goes into greater detail about the shady and questionable actions of the people running it. For instance:

    The list has been criticized for its lack of verification, with pranksters successfully submitting Charles Darwin, members of the Spice Girls and characters from Star Wars, and getting them briefly included on the list.


    In 2001, Scientific American took a random sample “of 30 of the 1,400 signatories claiming to hold a Ph.D. in a climate-related science.”

    Of the 26 we were able to identify in various databases, 11 said they still agreed with the petition —- one was an active climate researcher, two others had relevant expertise, and eight signed based on an informal evaluation. Six said they would not sign the petition today, three did not remember any such petition, one had died, and five did not answer repeated messages. Crudely extrapolating, the petition supporters include a core of about 200 climate researchers – a respectable number, though rather a small fraction of the climatological community.


    A manuscript accompanying the petition was presented in a near identical style and format to contributions that appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a scientific journal,[28] but upon careful examination was distinct from a publication by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. Raymond Pierrehumbert, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Chicago, said the presentation was “designed to be deceptive by giving people the impression that the article … is a reprint and has passed peer review.” Pierrehumbert also said the publication was full of “half-truths”.[29] F. Sherwood Rowland, who was at the time foreign secretary of the National Academy of Sciences, said that the Academy received numerous inquiries from researchers who “are wondering if someone is trying to hoodwink them.”

  12. 12
    JGabriel says:

    Sorry to go on and on, but bullshit like that really pisses me off.

  13. 13
    JGabriel says:

    @NotMax: Gesundheit.

  14. 14
    gene108 says:


    Of course, Newsmax, et. al., are coming out with this now in order to distract from, or counteract, the latest news about the ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic melting.

    You do realize we are living in an inter-glacial period? Global Warming will just balance out the next Ice Age. Win-win as far as I can tell.


  15. 15
    Baud says:

    I wonder how big a deficit no one would care about we would have if Bush were president for life.

  16. 16
    raven says:

    May we never have to hear or see Paul Broun again!

  17. 17
    NotMax says:


    Have a feeling he and Gingrey are today commiserating with that fiasco last weekend in D.C.

    “Where is everybody?”

    Also nice to see that the Palin and Erickson endorsed Handel took a tumble.

  18. 18
    Baud says:



  19. 19
    raven says:

    @NotMax: Yea, if our outside shot of a mayoral candidate had won it would have been even better.

  20. 20
    NotMax says:


    Realize it is only the day after, but think Carter has a shot against Deal?

  21. 21
    raven says:

    @NotMax: All about GOTV. There are a lot of people that Deal has fucked over. If the don’t vote I guess it’s xin loi.

  22. 22
    NotMax says:

    Horrible, horrible bombing in Nigeria.

  23. 23
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @raven: I for one am going to miss him.

  24. 24
    Botsplainer says:

    Next door neighbor mowed till nearly 10 last night.

    It is 6:17, and I hear a mower right fucking now.

    About to kill a motherfucker.

  25. 25
    raven says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Move to Oconee County.

  26. 26
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    Happy 105th Sir Nicky. May the grandchildren of the 669 children you saved live long and prosper.

  27. 27
    NotMax says:

    Much too distant from here, but if anyone is closer to Morgantown, WV’s Atomic Grill, why not stop in as a gesture of support for a clever rebuttal to bone-headed, knuckle-dragging sexism.

  28. 28
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @raven: Oh no, I don’t want to do that. You see, now that his distraction is gone, a lot more focus may well fall onto the shenanigans occurring in the MO state legislature and thereby raise my own personal levels of embarrassment and, well, you know, it’s all about me.

  29. 29
    NotMax says:


    No local noise ordinances?

  30. 30
    OzarkHillbilly says:

    @NotMax: Damn, now that is some kind of skin! My mouth is watering just looking at that picture.

  31. 31
    Botsplainer says:


    Unincorporated part of a pulsing red exurban county, and no HOA was ever formed. People are usually decent (except for last night’s mower, who has a host of issues, not the least of which being his career switch of 5 years ago from blue collar skilled labor to poorly paid professional Elvis impersonator, which cost him his family).

    This morning’s mowing, though, is different.

  32. 32
    Schlemizel says:

    Why is google showing a painting of someone pulling down the universe’s zipper today?

  33. 33
    Bobby Thomson says:

    No one could have anticipated that putting all our eggs in one basket could facilitate a decapitating strike.

    Screw the sunk cost fallacy and pull the plug.

  34. 34
    NotMax says:


    Fossil hunter Mary Anning‘s 215th birthday anniversary, according to the associated text.

  35. 35
    Schlemizel says:

    Understood – I was just joking that the picture appears to be someone pulling down a giant zipper

    I suppose they could be pulling it up but thats not as funny

  36. 36
    NotMax says:


    Aha. I habitually surf the web with images turned off, so didn’t see the pic.

  37. 37
    danielx says:

    What, DHS’ headquarters building project is as fucked up as everything else about DHS? Quelle surprise!

  38. 38
    Suffern ACE says:

    We should just ask the Chinese of they’d build the headquarters for us. They seem to be able to finish projects like that. A net benefit is that the building would be filled with bugs and monitoring devices, so there is a chance that the agency’s activities would be monitored for the first time.

  39. 39
    jonas says:

    @JGabriel: Also, how many of those Ph.D’s are in things like “Biblical Education” from Oral Roberts University, or something.

  40. 40
    Brutusettu says:

    –A pork project that is loosely associated with the fight on teh terrorism?

    Cut food stamps and lower the top bracket. It’s the only way to be sure.

  41. 41
    different-church-lady says:

    Well, to be fair, making a building that protected from the espionage of their own contractors must be a very complicated task.

  42. 42
    LeeM says:

    As a former Coastie, it doesn’t surprise me at all that their building is occupied. Underfunded and overtasked was always the situation, but the nation’s smallest military branch and oldest seagoing service got it done. Semper Paratus!

  43. 43
    somethingblue says:

    More than 50 historic buildings would be renovated and new ones erected on the grounds of St. Elizabeths, a onetime insane asylum with a panoramic view of the District.

    With usura hath no man a house of good stone
    each block cut smooth and well fitting
    that design might cover their face …

  44. 44
    JDM says:

    Putting them all in one central target is such a great idea. That’s why the Prez and Vice-prez always fly on the same plane.

  45. 45
    Origuy says:

    In 1991, the EU ordered that train operators be separate companies from the owners of the railways, in order to allow for competition. Free Market, yeah! So the French company SNCF operates the trains and RFF owns the railways and stations; both government owned. Well, when SNCF ordered 15 billion euros worth of new trains, they relied on platform measurements from RFF. Oops.

    The French train operator SNCF has discovered that 2,000 new trains it ordered at a cost of 15bn euros ($20.5bn; £12.1bn) are too wide for many regional platforms.

    RFF measured the newer platforms, but there are a lot of older ones that are wider.

  46. 46
    Someguy says:

    Shut the fuck up about this issue. No, seriously. Shut the fuck up.

    This is what was asked for. It is D.C. inside baseball but Eleanor Holmes Norton demanded that the agency’s headquarters be built there. The Dems in the then fledgling House Homeland Security Committee and in the Appropriations committees raised absolute hell and warned of serious repercussions if Tom Ridge followed through on his plan to build the new headquarters either on some vacant land adjacent to Langley, or at Fort Meade, places with much lower construction costs on land that was basically free. Once the deal was secured, the D.C. Historical Commission (which generally controls most construction affecting older buildings and properties in D.C., tens of thousands of them) snapped into action and started extracting design and construction compromises to protect the old lunatic asylum, and the District started extracting economic redevelopment promises. Yeah, Saint E’s is old but I’m not sure how much historical value a civil war hospital-cum-lunatic asylum actually has, unless maybe we want to keep some of it as a memorial for John Hinckley (still an inmate there) in an expression of national gratitude. Unlike private developers, it’s hard for government agencies in D.C. to budget for things like bribes that would keep construction moving along and on budget, which is part of the reason why most of them just rent commercial space.

    One shouldn’t be ungrateful when one gets what one demanded.

  47. 47
    C.V. Danes says:

    I’m sure the DHS could use more coordination, but with moden advances in videoconferencing and online integration, is putting “about 14,000 DHS employees” into a centralized campus of fifty-plus historically-relevant buildings really the best way to achieve this?

    Not if your goal is to grift as much as you possibly can before someone decides to just cancel the project.

  48. 48
    Bob Munck says:

    Has anyone done a study of how much it would cost to disband the Department of Homeland Security? It would certainly be less than $4.5 billion and would result in a significantly larger net good for the country and its citizens.

  49. 49
    kathleen says:

    Why do we need “Homeland Security” and “Department of Defense?”

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