Homeland Security Is, Fittingly, Moving to an Old Insane Asylum

It's running at least a decade late and over a billion dollars short.

It's “a boondoggle of epic proportions,” an exasperated Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) told Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson at a recent congressional hearing, “if you're in the middle of a huge mess, you stop digging.”

The specific object of Hudson's ire was department's massive new headquarters complex in southeast Washington, the biggest federal construction project since the Pentagon. As the Washington Times reported Sunday, the project–featuring amenities like eco-friendly “rainwater toilets” and sustainable Brazilian hardwood decking–is running at least a decade late and over a billion dollars short.

But the larger point applies to the department itself and the nebulous, all-encompassing rubric under which it's organized. “Homeland Security” is a mess; “stop digging.”

“We should finish what we started,” Johnson countered, “the morale of DHS, unity of the mission, that emphasis would go a long way if we could get to a headquarters.”

The department, which ranks dead last among large agencies on the Partnership for Public Service's 2013 “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” list, could use a morale boost. But it would take a pretty goth sensibility to be cheered up by a move to the site of what Congress established in 1855 as “St. Elizabeths Government Hospital for the Insane.”

The hospital's former employees include the inventor of the “icepick lobotomy”; among its famous inmates were disgruntled federal job-seeker Charles Guiteau, who assassinated President Garfield, and pioneering recreational chemist Owsley Stanley, who supplied Ken Kesey's “merry pranksters” with high-grade LSD. “One of many historically interesting features of the site,” the redevelopment webpage boasts, “is a cemetery originally established for ... 'friendless patients.' ”

“It's a terrific place,” Johnson told Hudson, “I am envious. But I will probably never work there.” (Tough break.)

Johnson’s other goal, “unity of the mission,” has bigger obstacles than a dispersed workforce, as that House Homeland Security Committee hearing made clear.

“Syria has become a matter of homeland security,” committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) insisted. Judging by the other topics covered, so have “massive flood insurance premium increases”; the capture of “top drug lord El Chapo Guzman”; “conducting proper oversight over the state of New Jersey” for Sandy relief; the “human-trafficking question”; and “put[ting] pressure on [the Transportation Security Administration] to use small businesses.”

More than a decade after 9/11, the Congressional Research Service observes, the federal government still “does not have a single definition for ‘homeland security.' ” Definitions in the government's key strategy documents range from “provid[ing] essential support to national and economic security,” to ensuring a homeland safe “against terrorism and other hazards where American interests, aspirations, and ways of life can thrive.” A deputy secretary quoted in the report helpfully explains that homeland security is “transactional, it's decentralized, it's bottom-driven,” and it's “strategic, it's centralized, it's top-driven.”

“In short,” writes Wired's David Kravets, “'‘homeland security' is whatever the government says it is.”

Whatever it is, it's expensive. By some measures, since 9/11 spending under the rubric “homeland security,” both inside and outside the department, dwarfs even the New Deal.

It's also dangerous. the department's recent, aborted attempt at building a national license plate tracking system is only the most recent example of the myriad ways the agency's “mission creep”threatens Americans' privacy.

The Times reports that Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) has urged the department to skimp on eco-friendly Brazilian hardwood and “consider composite wood material for the decking” at the headquarters. But we can do better than rearranging the decking on a titanic waste.

This column originally appeared in the Washington Examiner.

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  • Almanian!||

    Soooooo glad that BOOOOOOOOOOOOOSH gave us the consolidated, mongoloid abomination that is Homeland Suckurity. Cause now it's undoubtedly here forever. Fuck...they need a new buiding like....they need a new building.

    Fuck the entire federal government in the ass with a hot poker, and Homeland Security also gets to give Warty mouth sex as well. Fuckers.

  • paranoid android||

    We can't even drum up popular momentum to abolish the fucking TSA, an agency most people actually interact with at least occasionally and is almost universally hated. I have no idea what we're supposed to do against a bunch of faceless spooks that a bewilderingly stupid portion of the population is convinced are the only ones standing between us and a global caliphate, or something.

  • Free Society||

    We don't need political monopolies of legal violence to protect and order society. Fuck 'em, all. The only thing that governments outperform markets on is the destruction and enslavement of human beings.

  • Almanian!||

    You are absolutely correct, sir. See also: every war, ethnic cleansing and holocaust in the history of man!

  • Duke||

    This example of enormous government waste should in no way reflect on the government's expert ability to fix private healthcare.

  • Almanian!||

    Well, of course! Duh!

  • Radioactive||

    The Federal Government of the United States of America would fuck up a one car funeral.

  • pan fried wylie||

    GM makes hearse?

  • ||

    Interesting article from PINAC about how body cameras aren't the be-all-end-all solution to violent thug cops.

    Citizen recording, if you have the balls and the bail, is the best way to go.

  • Shirley Knott||

    FWIW, Bedlam, [one of] the original insane asylum[s] is now the British War Museum and home to one of the 'atomic war countdown clocks'.
    It's an impressive collection a reasonable walk from the London Eye.

  • waffles||

    I visited jetlagged and on 48 hours of no sleep, but i really enjoyed it.

  • Radioactive||

    yeah, nothing a like a visit to an abandoned insane asylum to brighten your day

  • ||

    amenities like eco-friendly “rainwater toilets” and sustainable Brazilian hardwood decking

    This is the prog version of gold plated faucets.

  • DH||

    Theyll have those too. Cant have the poor dears settle for "ugh" plain old cheap faucets. We have to display ameriican opulence through our government buildings for the rest of the world to see us as a shining example.

  • Radioactive||

    not to mention the hot & cold running douche bags

  • Hash Brown||

    Nutpunch, subclass federal.

    *oof*

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Those useless assholes should be working out of moldy, formaldehyde-emitting FEMA trailers left over from Katrina.

  • Brandon||

    "if you're in the middle of a huge mess, you stop digging.”

    Richard Hudson is a dumbfuck who doesn't seem to understand even the simplest metaphor.

  • Brandon||

    “the morale of DHS, unity of the mission, that emphasis would go a long way if we could get to a headquarters.”

    Not that Jeh Johnson is not also a dumbfuck.

  • ChrisO||

    Maybe we can convince Putin to annex the District of Columbia.

  • Andrew S.||

    He isn't that stupid.

  • Radioactive||

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA...just shaking my head so I can hear the ball rattle around inside...

  • pan fried wylie||

    Brazilian hardwood is sustainable? And I hope they filled out all the correct import paperwork.

  • RustyHashbrown||

    "...Congress established in 1855 as “St. Elizabeths Government Hospital for the Insane.”

    Now, we just need to figure out how to get every single other federal agency into this one building, and it will have lived up to the name.

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