O'Fallon Progress

IMHO, Army Corps misleading NGA chief

Our congressional delegation is texting Robert Cardillo this message: NGA@NSTL? OMG! #GAO! #OIG! @SAFB.

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Cardillo is offering little hope that his spy mapping agency will land its $1.75 billion new western headquarters anywhere other than in North St. Louis. Still, there are obligations here and that is why local congressmen asked for investigations by both the Government Accountability Office and the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Priority No. 1 needs to be security. The Corps of Engineers seems to have slighted that aspect, along with making multiple mistakes in a sloppy report that was the basis for the North St. Louis decision. Ironic that a document on where to place a defense mapping agency couldn’t figure out whether St. Clair County was in Michigan, Missouri or Illinois.

An independent study commissioned by Illinois leaders raises significant questions about the government’s ability to secure the North St. Louis site. Truck bombs, drones and predatory criminals are all risks to the facility and its 3,100 workers cited by Command Consulting Group, which includes a former Secret Service assistant director and a U.S. Air Force colonel responsible for base security.

The St. Louis site needs a security waiver because there’s so little space between the outside world and some of our most sensitive intelligence. It has a roughly 500-foot buffer. The site at Scott Air Force Base offers 1,000 feet of separation.

“It is logical that the proposed NGA site in St. Clair County would be the better choice, and we urge the decision-makers to cautiously weight any trade-offs of other factors against the NGA facility’s ultimate security and the safety of its workforce,” the security experts wrote.

Priority No. 2 should be cost. The Corps ranks the good of taxpayers last in its assessment.

The estimate was for $1.6 billion but the NGA without explanation recently started using $1.75 billion. Actual costs may vary, and we anticipate they could double.

There is higher cost associated with securing North St. Louis and toughening a perimeter in a populated urban area that was so recently a neighbor to race riots and arson. There is higher cost from delay as environmental hazards are cleaned, including asbestos and radiation likely permeating the federal land next door where the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex once stood. There is higher cost, $40 million per year of delay, as old burial grounds or pollution or underground utility unknowns or hold-out landowners are managed.

Our Commander in Chief may well believe the moral high ground dictates using NGA as an urban renewal tool for North St. Louis. Our Illinois congressional delegation has an uphill battle using security, mission and cost to do battle, but maybe right makes might.