Metro-East cedes NGA to St. Louis – at least for now

By Bob Pieper For Chronicle Media
Rendering of the planned new National Geospacial Intelligence Agency (NGA) western headquarters near Scott Air Force Base. (Photo courtesy of National Geospacial Intelligence Agency)

Rendering of the planned new National Geospacial Intelligence Agency (NGA) western headquarters near Scott Air Force Base. (Photo courtesy of National Geospacial Intelligence Agency)

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s (NGA) on June 2 formally announced its new $1.75 billion Next NGA West (N2W) facility will be built in North St. Louis rather than Metro-East.

The announcement came as NGA Director Robert Cardillo officially signed a Record of Decision naming a 99-acre tract near the former site of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis, as the N2W location.

In formalizing the decision, Cardillo accepted the recommendations in a Final Environmental Impact Statement, released by the Army Corps of Engineers April 1, naming the St. Louis site as the agency’s “preferred alternative” location.

“When determining where our next west headquarters would be located, I considered a number of factors, but most importantly, our mission,” said Cardillo.

However, Metro-East leaders, who hoped to see the facility built on a 182-acre tract just north of Scott Air Force Base in St. Clair County, say the decision was based primarily on philosophical and political factors; ignoring problems that will threaten the facility’s mission and increase its cost.

Above all, they cite security concerns.  The NGA announcement comes as St. Louis, which each year has among the highest crime rates in the nation, is experiencing a surge in murder rates and other violent crime.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Downtown St. Louis, a trade group, last week called for a greater police presence following a series of murders and shootings in the city’s central business district, not far from the N2W site at the intersection of Cass and Jefferson avenues. Some St. Louis aldermen last week called for the resignation of Police Chief Sam Dotson.

“I am deeply concerned about the security of the St. Louis site and I do not believe we have received acceptable answers from Director Cardillo,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “His decision (today) is short-sighted and ignores not only safety issues, but also legitimate concerns about cost overruns which will hurt taxpayers in the long-term.”

Missouri officials note the St. Louis site is in federally designed Promise Zone, which is to receive priority consideration for federal projects under an executive order signed by President Barack Obama to help revive blighted urban areas.

“Identifying the (N2W) agency preferred alternative and record of decision involved reviewing the final environmental analysis findings by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and an evaluation of each site using mission, security, laws/regulations/Executive Orders, cost and schedule criteria,” an NGA press release noted.

However, Congressional Republicans charge Promise Zones are intended largely to help shore up traditional Democratic strongholds in urban areas. Heavily Democratic St. Louis is considered important to Democrats in this election year as Missouri continues to move toward the GOP.

St. Louis officials cite their efforts to develop a “technology hub” and attract younger residents to the city, as a factor in the NGA’s decision.

Robert Cardillo, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency director

Robert Cardillo, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency director

“Ultimately this location, near a quickly-growing technological and professional environment, will allow for NGA to integrate capabilities and technologies in support of our mission to provide accurate and relevant geospatial intelligence to our customers,” Cardillo confirmed in his announcement.

However, critics say St. Louis’ Cortex technology incubator lags far behind similar initiatives in other cities, has failed to produce many profit-making companies, and has quickly lost its few successful startups.

Funding for the N2W could become an issue over the coming weeks as a House-Senate conference finalizes the nation’s new federal budget.

Funding for the St. Louis site was stripped from the proposed new budget by Republican lawmakers last month. Missouri Democrats are attempting to restore it in a pending federal construction bill.

Meanwhile, Durbin and Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill, have issued statements supporting calls by Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, for a Government Accountability Office (NGA) study into the decision-making process used to determine the site.  Rep. Bost has also called for an investigation by U.S. Department of Defense Inspector General.

“This isn’t the first time NGA has deliberately used bad information to make a bad decision, which is why I have asked the top government watchdog to ensure this decision is best for the warfighter and taxpayer,” Kirk said in a statement.

NGA investigations are often conducted following decisions on major federal projects.



— Metro-East cedes NGA to St. Louis – at least for now —