Friday, May 15, 2009

New HQ announced; massive expansion underway?

Here is the official announcement of the project to build CSE's new headquarters. The announcement essentially confirms what we already knew, but it does add a few details, as well as raising a few questions.
  • The new building will be constructed, as expected, through a public-private partnership.

  • Construction is planned to begin early in 2011.

  • The Mid-Term Accommodation Project, a $70-million 6000-square-metre building announced last year and scheduled for completion in 2011, is now considered Phase I of the headquarters project, while the new project is considered Phase II.

  • The size of the Phase II building will be 72,000 square metres, for a total of 78,000 square metres at the new headquarters site. (Assuming the two buildings will be at the same site; the press release doesn't specify location aside from the National Capital Region. Maybe it's a s33kr1t.)
Now for some questions:
  • CSE has typically provided about 25 square metres of facility space per employee, and this figure appears to hold for the Phase I building, which is supposed to hold up to 250 employees. It also holds for GCHQ, which is said to house 4000-4500 employees in its new 102,000-square-metre building. If, however, the same figure holds for CSE's Phase II building, that building will be able to accommodate roughly 2900 employees, for a site total of about 3100. That's more than 1450 more than CSE currently has, and about 1300 more than it is currently expected to have! It would appear that either a massive and so far unannounced expansion of CSE is in the works or the happy few then on staff will be luxuriating in their palatial new digs come 2015.

  • According to Minister of Transport John Baird, who apparently has something to say on these matters because he is the MP of one of the National Capital Region ridings, the project "represents an estimated $800 million capital investment by the Government of Canada." The press release goes on to say that "Facilities management and life-cycle replacement costs, over a 30-year agreement, will be added to the project total." I had thought that the $880 million estimated in the 2009-10 Report on Plans and Priorities represented both the construction costs and the 30-year facility operations costs, but this would seem to suggest that the operations costs will come on top of the $800 million cited. That would make it an extremely expensive building, however. I'm more inclined to think that both the $70-million figure for the Phase I project and the $800- (or $880-) million figure for the Phase II project already include both construction and 30-year operating costs. I guess time (or maybe a future, more informative press release) will tell.
[Update 30 May 2009: Actually, the Report on Plans and Priorities shows that the entire $70 million for the Phase I building will be spent over the next couple of years, so no 30-year operating costs there. Since $70 million for a 6000-square-metre building works out to $11,667 per square metre, which applied to the 72,000 square metres of the Phase II building would be $840 million, it looks like no 30-year operating costs there either. Bottom line: it looks like what we have here are two extremely expensive buildings.]

[Update 5 November 2009: See the latest news and my wild speculations about this project here.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Bill. Great work as always. I just had three considerations here:

1. Is it possible centralization of far-flung staff not a possible reason the new HQ would need to be much larger?
2. Or new requirements for a major ramp-up of storage capacity?
3. Or further relocation and conversion of previously military personnel to civilian public service staff?

Maybe a combination of the three? Curious to know your thoughts.

June 15, 2009 2:38 pm  
Blogger Bill Robinson said...

Hi, thanks for the comments!

I don't think no. 1 is the answer: The great majority of CSE's staff works in Ottawa already, and as noted before the space they occupy is much smaller than the space they will have in the new buildings. A small number of CSE employees work outside Ottawa (and mostly outside Canada) in liaison positions, on exchange, receiving training, and presumably in a few cases on permanent or temporary collection operations. But that number isn't very large, and all or most of those will presumably still be working away from Ottawa after the new HQ is built.

I also doubt no. 3 explains things. Except for operations abroad, the military's SIGINT operations are already largely concentrated at Leitrim, so any significant military relocation/conversion would have to be from Leitrim to CSE HQ. But Leitrim is apparently about to undergo an expansion, so I can't see the station being significantly shrunk any time soon. I also think DND would oppose the conversion of CFIOG personnel to civilian positions because of the need to maintain a base of military personnel available to be deployed on operations. It may be, however, that the CFIOG will not remain as concentrated at Leitrim as it has been in recent years. DND may be planning to reactivate 771 Communications Research Squadron (the military unit that used to operate at CSE HQ) or to create an equivalent unit. That might add 100 or more uniformed personnel to the civilian total at the new site. I can't see such a move accounting for a very large part of the excess size of the buildings, however.

The storage capacity hypothesis seems more plausible to me. I don't think CSE has much stuff to store other than data, but there is an awful lot of data out there that potentially it might want to store.

And a building with maybe 30,000 square metres (or maybe more) available for data storage could hold a whole lot of data. Exabytes, maybe even zettabytes by 2015 (billions and trillions of gigabytes, respectively). It would cost a whole lot of money to do that, but it looks like these are going to be extremely expensive buildings, and that could be part of the reason.

Fun to speculate, anyway.

June 17, 2009 12:28 am  

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