After a lengthy delay in picking a site, plans to build a new $500-million Social Security Administration data center are moving ahead.

Federal officials finally selected a site in Urbana, Md., in early February and a request for qualifications for a design-build team for the project is on the street.

The 400,000-square-foot project is one of the largest new buildings funded by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The stimulus act provided $400 million to cover the construction cost, plus $100 million to partially fund equipment for the new center.

The project was the focus of a Feb. 11 joint hearing of House Ways and Means and Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittees.

David Foley, deputy commissioner of the General Services Administration's Public Buildings Service, testified that after the long search for a location, the data center project is about 11 months behind its original construction timetable.

But Foley also told the subcommittee members that the project remains on budget and added that GSA is looking for ways to expedite the work and recover some of the time lost.

Looking ahead, Foley said GSA plans to wrap up site acquisition in June and anticipates awarding the design-build contract by January 2012.

The project is to be substantially complete and turned over to SSA in September 2014. The new facility would replace the current Social Security data center in Woodlawn, Md., just west of Baltimore. That facility was built in 1979.

But Foley also told the subcommittees that a protest has been filed with the Government Accountability Office over the site selection process.

Round one design-build proposals are due on Feb. 25, according to the solicitation notice on the FedBizOpps web site. GSA will narrow the list to no more than five teams to proceed to round two of the selection.

House social security subcommittee Chairman Sam Johnson (R-Texas) quizzed GSA and SSA officials about the project. He said, "The last thing [taxpayers] deserve is another failed stimulus project due to further delays or future cost overruns."

He added, "This project should have started yesterday."

Foley said that in 2009, at the request of congressional committees, GSA studied the possibility of building the new data center at Social Security's Woodlawn location, but he said that study, issued in April 2010, found there were "significant concerns and high risk," with that option, "including the possible disruption of the mission-critical operations" at the computer center.