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Homeland Security's Future Home: A Former Mental Hospital

Visiting the craziest Washington project of them all
Homeland Security's Future Home: A Former Mental Hospital
Photograph by Eric G. Brown

Chris Mills frequently gives tours of St. Elizabeths Hospital, a former mental institution where the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is building a $4.5 billion headquarters. It’s the largest construction project in the District of Columbia since the Pentagon was completed in 1943. So there’s a lot of ground to cover. Mills prefers to chauffeur his guests around the place in a golf cart.

A cheerful 55-year-old with a neatly trimmed mustache, Mills, who is managing the project for DHS, tells visitors to look out for animals. There are loads. Herds of deer, a flock of wild turkeys, and a bald eagle reside in the fenced-in facility. They might not last long outside. St. Elizabeths is located in Anacostia, one of D.C.’s toughest neighborhoods. But they have little to fear inside the high-security fences. “It’s like the wild kingdom in here,” Mills says with a chuckle.