DHS New HQ in Lunatic Asylum

The Department of Homeland Security is acknowledging what we’ve long feared:

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is setting up its new HQ in a former lunatic asylum.

The DHS says it will consolidate most of the 60 offices it has across the Washington, D.C. region into a single new headquarters building. The $3 billion move will begin in 2011, according to a plan prepared by the DHS, once a new building is ready in the grounds of the former mental hospital, St. Elizabeth’s.

The U.S. Coast Guard will be the first element of the DHS to move into the new building in 2011, department Spokesman Larry Orluskie told United Press International. The DHS’s headquarters functions will follow in 2013, and the other components slated for centralization will move in after that.

Orluskie said that the U.S. Secret Service, the biometric system for tracking foreign visitors called U.S.-VISIT, the new Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, the Office of the Inspector General, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the DHS Science and Technology Directorate will probably remain in their current locations.

Aside from the humorous nature of moving perhaps the most helter-skelter of all federal agencies onto the grounds of an old loony bin, this move is so shockingly idiotic that only the DHS could do it. It was bad enough that the Powers That Be gave in to political pressure and headquartered DHS in D.C. proper rather than out in the much cheaper, more secure space in Chantilly, Virginia as originally planned. But now they’re consolidating their critical functions into a single building?!

Anyone who has taken so much as a two hour block of instruction on security knows that dispersion, not concentration, is required. While it may make sense to have political appointees and senior executives near the flagpole in DC, there is no rationale conceivable for putting the day-to-day workforce here. Ideally, each component agency would be in a different location far from one another. That way, a single terrorist strike would have a limited impact.

As a bonus, unless Los Angeles or Boston were chosen as the alternate locales, it would be harder to find a place with more traffic congestion or higher housing prices than the DC Metro area. Dispersion would save the taxpayer billions in cost of living and inordinately improve the quality of life of most DHS employees.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    St. Elizabeth’s is in the great neighborhood of SE DC, Anacostia. The only thing it has going for it is the great view of the Potomac, the Capitol and the Monument from where it sits. The single HQ building won’t be that exposed as the hospital complex is sprawling and is walled off from the outside and I’m sure there will be plenty of security. DIA and the DNI complex is right down the street on Bolling AFB.

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    Why, at a time in which gas prices are rising, the costs of technology are falling, and large facilities present more tempting targets does concentration like this make sense?

  3. legion says:

    Dude. I’ve lived on Bolling. I’ve heard the gunfire on the other side of 395. Security there is _not_ sufficient.

  4. DC Loser says:

    They have enough security to keep the bad guys out. The President’s helicopter facility is next door in Anacostia Naval Station, so they have plenty of firepower.

  5. Jeff Q. says:

    Interesting in that PG County had an announcement that they were designation the area around Andrews as a National Defense and Technology Corridor and that they hoped to get MD’s state DHS HQ and as I read it after that they were making a bid for the federal DHS HQ in the area.