Metro-East News

Illinois lawmakers cite security concerns at NGA’s preferred site

U.S. Senators Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill, and the rest of the bipartisan congressional delegation representing Southwestern Illinois on Monday sent a letter that questioned the security of the North St. Louis site that was recently announced to be the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency preferred location for its $1.75 billion West Campus.

The additional questions arose following a meeting late last week between the Illinois delegation members and NGA Director Robert Cardillo in Washington, D.C.

Durbin, Kirk and and U.S. House members Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, and Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville signed on to the letter to Cardillo that took issue with the fact that while the Final Environmental Impact Statement issued April 1 claims that each site met basic security requirements.

However, an independent assessment by the risk analysis firm Command Consulting Group asserts that NGA would have to waive compliance with the Department of Defense minimum parameters due to encroachment and the lack of standoff distance to pursue the North St. Louis site.

“We continue to have grave concerns that the North St. Louis site does not meet the necessary mission security requirements, especially in terms of standoff distance,” the Illinois members wrote. “These minimum requirements are considered only to provide low or very low applicable levels of force protection.”

The lawmakers requested that Cardillo respond in writing to their concerns prior to issuing his record of decision, or June 2, and within seven days of receiving Monday’s letter.

“NGA-West employees, our warfighters, and the American taxpayers deserve to have an unshakable assurance that the final NGA-West site chosen has been properly assessed and selected in accordance with the highest applicable security standards,” the lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers concluded their letter with these words: “We question why low or very low levels of protection are considered adequate for a vital national security facility and the people who work there, and whether such standards comply with applicable Intelligence Community policies.”

The meeting with Cardillo last Thursday was part of a last-ditch effort by county officials and Illinois lawmakers to convince Cardillo to reverse his decision and locate the NGA West campus, and its 3,100 jobs, on a 182-acre site in St. Clair County next door to Scott Air Force Base.

Kirk last Tuesday sent a letter to the Comptroller General of the United States seeking a review of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ report that favors a St. Louis site over St. Clair County for the new western headquarters for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

In a letter to Gene L. Dodaro, the comptroller general, Kirk said the Corps of Engineers ignored previously identified errors in the draft report, followed specific regulations while ignoring others and “ranked the total cost of the project as the lowest priority.”

Dodaro, as comptroller general, serves as head of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the federal government’s chief fiscal watchdog and auditing agency.

And on Friday, Bost asked the Office of Inspector General for the Army Corps of Engineers to review the the steps that resulted in the FEIS that guided Cardillo’s decision to place NGA West in North St. Louis, despite potentially higher costs, time-consuming delays and exposure to possibly toxic contamination at the nearby site of the abandoned Pruitt-Igoe housing complex.

The NGA, a secretive Defense Department intelligence agency that makes maps based on satellite imagery, announced two years ago it needs a new home for its western headquarters. The NGA must move because it needs more room to grow and a modern and secure infrastructure, officials have said.

Construction on the NGA site is set to begin in mid-2017 with completion set for 2021.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000