U.S. Embassy Kabul Construction Cost: From $625.4M to $792.9M, and Going Up, Up and Away

Posted: 12:55 am EDT

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released its report on Embassy Kabul Construction. Below is a a quick summary:

Since re-opening in 2002, the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, has experienced a dramatic increase in staffing, followed by a gradual drawdown. State has invested or plans to invest a total of $2.17 billion in U.S. facilities to address current and projected space needs. State awarded two contracts in 2009 and 2010 to construct additional on-compound housing and office facilities. State partially terminated one contract for the convenience of the U.S. government, and expanded the construction requirements of the second, affecting cost and schedule.

Schedule and cost: The Embassy Kabul project was originally scheduled for completion last summer but is now projected to be completed in fall of 2017. The cost has also increased from $625.4 million to $792.9 million.

Where two is better than one: Instead of building one temporary vehicle maintenance facility, the State Department ended up  funding two new, temporary vehicle maintenance facilities—one at Camp Sullivan (built by OBO) and one at Qasemi Lot (to be built by DS). Apparently, post officials reported that there are security concerns with using the Sullivan vehicle maintenance facility. And if that’s the case, one wonders why OBO did not scrub the other one, hey?

Which five overseas posts have hardened trailers? According to DS officials, hardened trailers could be required as part of State’s containerized housing and office unit task orders. State reported to the GAO that the hardened trailer specification has been applied to temporary facilities at five overseas posts.

Temporary facilities: As of February 2015, temporary facilities on the embassy compound provided nearly 1,100 desks and 760 beds.

Permanent facilities: Once the current construction is completed, the Kabul embassy’s permanent facilities—both older and newly constructed office and apartment buildings—will contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds. Those totals do not include the desks or beds in temporary offices and housing facilities.

The never ending story: State planning documents, as well as post and OBO officials, identify a continued need for some of the temporary facilities following completion of the permanent facilities in 2017. That would be 875 temporary desks and 472 to 640 temporary beds.  The GAO notes that even with the permanent construction completion “temporary housing will continue to provide between 37 and 44 percent of the available beds on-compound” at Embassy Kabul.

Image via gao.gov

Image via gao.gov

What the GAO found:

  • Cost and schedule have increased for the Kabul embassy construction project, in part due to incomplete cost and risk assessment. Cost for the 2009 and 2010 contracts has increased by about 27 percent, from $625.4 million to $792.9 million, and is likely to increase further. Projected completion has been delayed over 3 years to fall 2017. The Department of State (State) did not follow its cost containment and risk assessment policies, resulting in lost opportunities to mitigate risks. These risks, such as delays in the sequencing of the two contracts, eventually materialized, increasing cost and extending schedule. Unless State follows its policy, it may be unable to avoid or mitigate risks to cost and schedule on future projects.
  • Since 2002, State has built over $100 million in temporary buildings (intended for no more than 5 years’ use) to meet space needs on-compound but has no security standards tailored to those facilities. On completing the project in 2017, all temporary facilities will be 5 to 10 years old, and their continued use is likely.
  • State does not have a strategic facilities plan for Kabul that documents current and future embassy needs, comprehensively outlines existing facilities, analyzes gaps, provides projected costs, and documents decisions made. Lack of such a plan has inhibited coordination and undermined the continuity necessary to address emergent needs at the Kabul embassy.

Too many cooks and constant personnel turnover:

According to State officials in Kabul and Washington, coordination to address the Kabul embassy’s future needs is particularly difficult due to the large number of stakeholders in Kabul and in Washington. Additionally, the constant personnel turnover caused by the 1-year tours served by most management, facilities, and security staff in Kabul results in lack of continuity in decision making. As far back as January 2006, the State Office of Inspector General also identified “the near total lack of institutional memory” stemming from the lack of staff continuity and a “never-ending” learning curve as the most serious impediment to good executive direction at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

Post and Inter-Bureau Cooperation: Embassy Kabul, DS, OBO

Without a comprehensive plan that provides a strategic framework to document mission needs, catalog existing facilities, analyze gaps, provide projected costs, and document recommendations, the competing proposals of the post’s many stakeholders are difficult to manage, prioritize, and reconcile. As a result, State officials in Kabul said that these meetings suffer from no common vision and a lack of decision making. Consequently, State has been challenged to efficiently address changing embassy needs in several instances on- and off-compound. For example:

      • Interference with on-compound construction—OBO officials in Kabul expressed frustration that proposals for new projects would often conflict with plans previously agreed to by previous post management staff. For example, during our fieldwork, post management proposed to locate a helicopter landing zone near the embassy warehouse. However, according to OBO officials on-site, they had arranged with the previous management team to reserve that space as a staging area for the contractor to build the warehouse expansion. When asked about this, post management officials stated that they had no continuity document that informed them of this earlier decision.
      • On-compound physical security upgrades—DS first requested changes to the embassy compound’s security perimeter in December 2010 and added more requirements in response to attacks against the compound in September 2011. In February 2013, the post urged OBO to provide a project schedule and expedite the upgrades. However, that was not done and as of March 2015 OBO and DS had not reached agreement on schedules and costs for some security upgrade projects.
      • Camp Seitz—In 2013, DS and post management decided to relocate the Kabul Embassy Guard Force from Camp Sullivan and the Protective Security Detail (movement protection) Guard forces from another camp to sites closer to the embassy compound due to security concerns. To facilitate this, DS initiated the acquisition of the Camp Seitz site through OBO. However, according to State officials, DS then began construction of temporary housing at Camp Seitz without submitting the design to OBO for review or applying for a building permit. After OBO became aware of the completed construction, it identified fire safety deficiencies that DS had to correct.
      • Camp Sullivan, Camp Eggers, Qasemi Lot Vehicle Maintenance Facility—As part of the security contractor relocation, post management and DS proposed removing several support facilities, including a vehicle maintenance facility, from an ongoing construction project at Camp Sullivan and transferring them to Camp Eggers. Post management and DS officials stated that once the temporary vehicle maintenance facility on-compound is demolished to make way for apartment buildings 2 and 3, it would be better for security and logistics to build the replacement vehicle maintenance facility close to the compound rather than at Camp Sullivan. However, OBO proceeded to build the Sullivan vehicle maintenance facility because negotiations for the 30 leases required at Camp Eggers were not complete, and OBO was concerned that if an alternative vehicle maintenance facility was not in place, construction of apartments 2 and 3 could be delayed and their costs increased.56 Discussions continued among OBO, DS, and post management, and the proposed vehicle maintenance facility was shifted to Qasemi Lot, a site adjacent to Camp Seitz. OBO decided not to descope the Camp Sullivan vehicle maintenance facility until plans for a replacement facility at Qasemi Lot were approved by OBO and DS had awarded a construction contract with a scheduled completion date prior to the demolition date for the existing vehicle maintenance facility on- compound. As a result, State is funding two new, temporary vehicle maintenance facilities—one at Camp Sullivan (built by OBO) and one at Qasemi Lot (to be built by DS).57

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Snapshot: State/INL’s Counternarcotics Program Afghanistan — $220 Million With Unclear Results

Posted: 1:04  am EDT

 

Via State/OIG:

Afghanistan produces three-quarters of the world’s illicit opium, with cultivation reaching a record high in 2013. To reduce, among other things, illicit opium revenue for the insurgency in Afghanistan, the Department of State (Department), Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL), assists the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) with initiatives aimed at reducing opium’s supply and demand. Since 2006, INL has expended $220 million on seven Counternarcotics (CN) initiatives in Afghanistan according to its Financial Management Activity Report (FMAR).
[…]
The degree to which INL’s CN program for Afghanistan has achieved desired results is unclear because INL has not fully developed or implemented Performance Measurement Plans (PMPs)2 to track progress for its CN initiatives and to allow for appropriate budgeting. As a result, INL cannot determine whether its Afghan CN initiatives are successful or should be revised, reduced, or canceled. Additionally, the long-term viability of CN initiatives is unclear because INL had not worked with the GIRoA to develop required sustainment plans that detail how CN initiatives will continue without U.S. assistance.

Screen Shot 2015-03-25

Click on image for larger view. (Click here for OIG report in pdf)

Above graphic extracted from State/OIG Audit of Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs Counternarcotics Assistance to Afghanistan, November 2014 (pdf).

Related to our blog post on Colombia, note that INL’s program in Afghanistan does not seem to include aerial eradication ( see State/INL: Anti-Drug Aerial Eradication in Colombia and the Cancer-Linked Herbicide, What Now?).

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Post Evacuations FY2013, FY2014, Plus Consular Emergencies Funding Request for FY2016

 

The Crisis Management Training office out of FSI has a running tally of posts evacuated in the last two decades but it’s not available to the public. The 2016 budget justification for USAID and the State Department does include a list of posts that went on evac status in FY2013 and FY2014. I think I’ve covered all the post evacution on this list except for the one in Los Cabos, Mexico (how did I miss that?)

Also note that in June 2014, Embassy Baghdad personnel were “temporarily relocated” both to the  Consulate Generals in Basra and Erbil and to the Iraq Support Unit in Amman, Jordan but that personnel movement does not appear to be considered an “evacuation.” Might that be because Iraq constitute a different/separate congressional funding request?

Fiscal Year 2013 Evacuations (October 2012-September 2013)

  1. Adana, Turkey
  2. Algiers, Algeria
  3. Bamako, Mali
  4. Bangui, Central African Republic
  5. Beirut, Lebanon
  6. Cairo, Egypt
  7. Lahore, Pakistan
  8. Niamey, Niger
  9. Sanaa, Yemen
  10. Tripoli, Libya

Fiscal Year 2014 Evacuations (October 2013-September 2014)

  1. Juba, South Sudan
  2. Kyiv, Ukraine
  3. Tripoli, Libya
  4. Monrovia, Liberia
  5. Freetown, Sierra Leone
  6. Maseru, Lesotho
  7. Sanaa, Yemen
  8. Los Cabos, Mexico

Extracted from the 2016 budget request for USAID and the State Department:

EDCS funding is heavily influenced by unpredictable evacuations that may occur as a result of natural disasters, epidemics, terrorist acts, and civil unrest. Recent demands include Sierra time Leone’s Ebola-related emergency evacuation and the evacuation of the embassy in Ukraine due to the ongoing conflict.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05

EDCS also funds certain activities relating to the conduct of foreign affairs by senior Administration officials. These activities generally take place in connection with the U.S. hosting of U.S. Government-sponsored conferences, such as the UN and OAS General Assemblies, the G-20 Summit, the Nuclear Security Summit, the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, the Asian-Pacific Economic (APEC) Summit, and the NATO Summit. In FY 2014, the U.S. hosted the U.S. – Africa Leaders’ Summit. In FY 2015, the U.S. will begin the two-year Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. In FY 2016, the Department will host the Nuclear Security Summit.

Other EDCS activities include presidential, vice presidential, and congressional delegation travel overseas; official visits and official gifts for foreign dignitaries; representation requirements of senior Department officials; rewards for information on international terrorism, narcotics trafficking, transnational organized crime, and war crimes; as well as the expansion of publicity efforts.

 

Snapshot: State Department, Foreign Ops and Programs = 1% of Total Federal Budget

— Domani Spero

 

Via CRS:

Congress annually appropriates funds for the security of diplomatic personnel and facilities within the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs appropriation, which is about 1% of the total federal budget. Security funding amounts to about 9% of that appropriation.

via CRS

via CRS

Congress has not enacted a stand-alone State Department appropriation prior to the start of the fiscal year since 1995 and has not passed a stand-alone Foreign Relations Authorization law since 2002.6 Both could have been legislative vehicles for debate regarding Administration of Foreign Affairs, including diplomatic/embassy security funding and priorities. Instead, Congress has provided ongoing security funding within Continuing Resolutions (CRs) that have delayed by several months the full-year appropriation eventually provided. Funding within a CR is usually based on the previous year’s funding levels. Furthermore, if spending was not in the previous year’s appropriation (as was the case with Benghazi in 2012), it would not be funded by a CR. Only after the final appropriation is passed by Congress and signed into law by the President would State Department officials know what level of funding they can allocate on a daily/weekly/monthly basis over the 275 worldwide diplomatic posts (or 1600 work facilities)7 and over the remainder of the fiscal year.

Read in full here (pdf).

International affairs is important but apparently not important enough to merit the right interest in Congress in the last two decades when it comes to appropriating funds. There’s enough blame to go around going back to 1995, spanning three administrations, all the way back to the 104th Congress and every congressional session thereafter.

Remember that the next time you see an elected representative shed tears on teevee or blow fire from his ass about somebody or another not doing enough for the diplomats our country send overseas.

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Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and Briefs — Published August 2014

— Domani Spero

 

Note that some documents are web-accessible but most are in pdf formats.

-08/29/14   Latin America and the Caribbean: Key Issues for the 113th Congress  [598 Kb]
-08/29/14   Organization of American States: Background and Issues for Congress  [433 Kb]
-08/29/14   Special Immigrant Juveniles: In Brief  [317 Kb]
-08/29/14   Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990  [646 Kb]
-08/28/14   The “1033 Program,” Department of Defense Support to Law Enforcement  [234 Kb]
-08/28/14   The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq: A Possible Threat to Jordan? – CRS Insights  [84 Kb]
-08/28/14   Unaccompanied Children from Central America: Foreign Policy Considerations  [451 Kb]
-08/27/14   The New START Treaty: Central Limits and Key Provisions  [436 Kb]
-08/27/14   The Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR)  [53 Kb]
-08/26/14   Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues  [452 Kb]
-08/26/14   NATO’s Wales Summit: Expected Outcomes and Key Challenges  [317 Kb]
-08/26/14   The 2014 Ebola Outbreak: International and U.S. Responses  [625 Kb]
-08/21/14   China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States  [646 Kb]
-08/20/14   Climate Change and Existing Law: A Survey of Legal Issues Past, Present, and Future  [514 Kb]
-08/20/14   The “Militarization” of Law Enforcement and the Department of Defense’s “1033 Program” – CRS Insights  [66 Kb]
-08/19/14   Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances  [504 Kb]
-08/19/14   Iran Sanctions  [709 Kb]
-08/15/14   Domestic Terrorism Appears to Be Reemerging as a Priority at the Department of Justice – CRS Insights  [97 Kb]
-08/15/14   Latin America: Terrorism Issues  [530 Kb]
-08/15/14   Manufacturing Nuclear Weapon “Pits”: A Decisionmaking Approach to Congress [656 Kb]
-08/15/14   Same-Sex Marriage: A Legal Background After United v. Windsor  [234 Kb]
-08/15/14   State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2015 Budget and Appropriations  [558 Kb]
-08/14/14   The U.S. Military Presence in Okinawa and Futenma Base Controversy  [654 Kb]
-08/13/14   U.S. – Vietnam Economic and Trade Relations: Issues for the 113th Congress  [408 Kb]
-08/12/14   Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights  [497 Kb]
-08/08/14   Ebola: 2014 Outbreak in West Africa – CRS In Focus  [243 Kb]
-08/08/14   Iraq Crisis and U.S. Policy  [578 Kb]
-08/08/14   U.S. – Vietnam Nuclear Cooperation Agreement: Issues for Congress  [336 Kb]
-08/07/14   Guatemala: Political, Security, and Socio-Economic Conditions and U.S. Relations [449 Kb]
-08/07/14   India’s New Government and Implications for U.S. Interests  [310 Kb]
-08/07/14   Reducing the Budget Deficit: Overview of Policy Issues  [410 Kb]
-08/07/14   U.S. – EU Cooperation on Ukraine and Russia – CRS Insights  [135 Kb]
-08/06/14   2014 Quadrennial Homeland Security Review: Evolution of Strategic Review – CRS Insights  [243 Kb]
-08/05/14   China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities – Background and Issues for Congress  [4552 Kb]
-08/05/14   Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress  [1348 Kb]
-08/05/14   Safe at Home? Letting Ebola-Stricken Americans Return – CRS Insights  [195 Kb]
-08/04/14   Indonesia’s 2014 Presidential Election – CRS Insights  [55 Kb]
-08/01/14   “Womenomics” in Japan: In Brief  [232 Kb]
-08/01/14   Gun Control Legislation in the 113th Congress  [539 Kb]
-08/01/14   Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations  [907 Kb] 

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Snapshot: Defense Spending in NATO Member States

— Domani Spero

 

On September 2, President Obama arrived in Tallinn, Estonia. From September 4-5, he will be in Wales for the NATO Summit. There will be 60 world leaders, 70 foreign ministers, 70 defence ministers and 28 NATO member countries invited to the UK summit.

According to the CRS, the formal summit agenda is expected to focus on three main issues:

• Enhancing allied readiness and strengthening collective defense and military capabilities, including through increased troop rotations and military exercises in Central and Eastern Europe;

• Marking the conclusion of NATO’s decade-long mission in Afghanistan at the end of 2014 and launching a planned follow-on training mission; and

• Enhancing NATO’s support of partner countries outside the alliance, including through a new “Defense Capacity Building Initiative.”

Apparently, also a key discussion that must be had during the summit is the defense spending of member states.  Below via the CRS:

A key question underlying summit deliberations on collective defense will be whether the allies are willing to devote the resources necessary to meet their stated commitments. As such, a primary objective of NATO leaders and U.S. and UK officials, among others, is to secure allied pledges to reverse the ongoing downward trend in allied defense spending.

In 2013, total defense spending by NATO European allies as a percentage of GDP was about 1.6%; just four NATO allies (Estonia, Greece, the UK, and the United States) met the alliance’s goal of spending 2% of GDP on defense (see Appendix for more allied defense spending figures).  Since 2001, the U.S. share of total allied defense spending has grown from 63% to 72%.13 Many analysts and U.S. officials have long asserted that defense spending in many European countries is not only too low; it is also inefficient, with disproportionately high personnel costs coming at the expense of much-needed research, development, and procurement. In 2013, only four allies (France, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States) met a NATO guideline to devote 20% of defense expenditures to the purchase of major equipment, considered a key indicator of the pace of military modernization.

via CRS

via CRS (click on image for larger view)

Follow the NATO Summit Wales 2014 via GOV.UK here.

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U.S. Embassy Kabul Construction Bulge: From $625M to $773M, Est. Completion Now Moved to 2016

— Domani Spero

 

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently evaluated the construction of U.S. Embassy Kabul due to “broad congressional interest” in the oversight and accountability of U.S. funds used in Afghanistan. The GAO wanted to see what contracts State put in place to construct new U.S. embassy facilities in Kabul starting in 2009; the extent to which construction requirements, cost, or schedule have changed, and the reasons for the changes; and the extent to which the present expansion matches projected needs.

The GAO reports that contract costs for construction have increased by nearly 24 percent, from $625.4 million to $773.9 million as of May 2014.  The original construction completion was to be the end of  summer 2014; the contractual delivery date for all permanent facilities is now anticipated for July 2016.

With the withdrawal of U.S. troops in the horizon, SIGAR recently said that “constraint on oversight of US-funded Afghan reconstruction will only worsen as more US coalition bases close” and that the “ability to monitor, manage & oversee reconstruction programs in Afghanistan will only become more difficult.”

And yet, Embassy Kabul’s permanent facilities—both older and newly-constructed office and apartment buildings—will eventually contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds.  The projected embassy staffing for 2015 is approximately 600 U.S. direct hires and 1,100 locally employed staff.  Without the military support, State would once more end up with potentially contracting its own security and life-support contractors as it did in Iraq.

Excerpt from the GAO report:

From 2002 through 2009, State took several actions to expand the U.S. embassy compound in Kabul. Initially, OBO refurbished the existing office building, built in the 1960s. Additionally, OBO completed the construction of a new chancery office building, staff apartments, and support facilities. As staffing increases continued, the embassy acquired hundreds of shipping containers for temporary offices and housing. The embassy also compressed office space by putting more desks in the new chancery and old existing office building. Today the Kabul embassy compound consists of the original compound on the west side of Great Massoud Road, referred to as the West Compound, and an expansion compound on the east side of Great Massoud Road, referred to as the East Compound.
[…]

Since the two contracts were awarded in 2009 and 2010, construction requirements have changed, costs have increased, and schedules have been extended. OBO’s original construction requirements have changed. In December 2009, OBO added two stories to planned office annex A. In September 2011, after the U.S. and Afghan governments did not reach agreement to transfer the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site to the U.S. government, OBO removed the parking facilities from Contractor 2’s contract. The embassy also requested that OBO reconfigure the existing office building’s second floor. In March 2012 and September 2013, new security upgrades to perimeter walls and guard towers were added. Because of the building alterations, OBO is building space for more desks and beds than originally planned. The new office annexes under construction are to contain 1,237 desks, a nearly 60 percent increase over the 778 desks originally planned. OBO is also building space for 661 beds, about 50 more than originally planned. 

Contract costs for construction have increased by nearly 24 percent, from $625.4 million to $773.9 million as of May 2014. (See table 1 on page 20 of the enclosure.) This $148.5 million cost increase is the result of multiple contract modifications to change construction requirements, including the transfer of construction requirements from the 1st contract to the 2nd contract.1 

The overall project schedule has also been extended. OBO had originally planned to complete all construction on the compound by the end of summer 2014; the contractual delivery date for all permanent facilities is currently July 2016. 
[…]

Factors affecting the project include: 

    • Increases in numbers and changes in composition of embassy staffing requirements. 
    • Risks introduced by State during planning, such as awarding contracts before the Afghan Ministry of Public Health site was fully acquired and tightly sequencing the work of two contractors on one construction site. 
    • Constructing new facilities on an occupied compound in a conflict environment. 
    • Contractor performance delays and transfer of construction requirements from one contract to another. 
    • Delays and changes to shipping routes of building materials due to difficulties with shipments transiting through Pakistan. 
Via GAO

Via GAO

We’ve seen this before, haven’t we?

It is difficult to determine whether current projects and existing facilities will meet future embassy needs. Long-term construction has been occurring in an unpredictable political and security environment characterized by dramatic changes in U.S. staff levels. Additionally, as the U.S. military draws down its presence in Afghanistan, State will have to decide whether to close its facilities in the field or engage support contractors to replace life-support services currently provided by the military, such as food, water, fuel, and medical services. Such changes may affect embassy staffing and operations. Future composition of U.S. agencies, staffing levels, and embassy facility needs continue to be subject to change.

Once current contracts are completed, the Kabul embassy’s permanent facilities—both older and newly-constructed office and apartment buildings—are to contain 1,487 desks and 819 beds. These totals do not include any desks or beds within temporary offices and housing that State expects to demolish. Furthermore, the desk totals assume that compressed office areas in currently crowded office buildings will be alleviated as some staff move out of those areas and into the newly completed office annexes. 

Projected embassy staffing for 2015 is approximately 600 U.S. direct hires and 1,100 locally employed staff. State is working to identify its and other agencies’ desk positions (both U.S. direct hires and locally employed staff) that will occupy the new office space. State is also examining how to accommodate new support contractors—either on or off compound—that may be used to provide needed services after the U.S. military departs Afghanistan. 

State is conducting a master planning study, due in August 2014, to address on-compound facility needs unmet by current construction. That plan may address parking facilities that were removed from the current construction project. State is also considering the continued use of various leased off-compound facilities in the future.

 

Read the full report here (pdf).

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New Embassy Mexico City Estimated to Cost $350-$450M Now More Pricey At $763 Million

— Domani Spero

 

On June 20, 2014, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City announced the 50thanniversary of the building of the chancery in Mexico
City´s  Reforma Avenue. According to Embassy Mexico City, the building began in 1960 during the Kennedy Administration and under then Ambassador Thomas Mann. The building reportedly cost 5 million dollars and in 1964 became the second largest U.S. embassy in the world.

In 2011, the State Department solicitation on fedbiz announced that the New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Mexico City, Mexico will be a design-bid-build project estimated to cost between $350 million and $450 million.

The new Embassy compound will be constructed on U.S. Government-owned property located in the Nuevo Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City. It will be in the range of 40,000-45,000 gross square meters in area and will include a new Chancery, General Services Office/support buildings, parking structures, Marine Security Guard Quarters, and vehicular/pedestrian screening facilities.

In 2012, the estimated construction cost was $450 – $500 million.

In November 2013, FP’s The Cable reported that the State Department has quietly reversed course, saying its initial solicitation to industry is “cancelled in its entirety” because plans have been altered. The State Department did not explain why in its announcement, but said a new, future solicitation to industry for the project “is under acquisition review.” (See State Department Quietly Reverses Course On Its $500 Million Mexican Embassy).

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee’s draft report on the fiscal 2015 State and foreign aid spending bill notes that the new construction cost estimate of NEC Mexico City is now at $763,500,000.  The following is the section of the Committee draft report on the new embassy that will soon join our list of most expensive embassies in the world:

Enhanced notification requirements.—The  Congressional Budget Justification for Department of State Operations, Fiscal Year 2015 estimates the cost for construction of the New Embassy Compound in Mexico City, Mexico at $763,500,000. The Committee is troubled that this is an escalation in cost of more than 38 percent in the two years since the initial estimate was provided. Cost increases of this magnitude, as well as reports of other new embassy project cost escalations, are of great concern to the Committee. Accordingly, in order to enhance the oversight of new construction projects, the Committee recommendation modifies and expands section 7004(d) of the bill to require that all notifications for the purchase of land and for the award of construction contracts be subject to the regular notification procedures of, and prior approval by, the Committees on Appropriations.

Notifications made pursuant to section 7004(d) shall include the following information, at a minimum: (1) the location and size of the property to be acquired, including the proximity to existing United States diplomatic facilities and host government ministries; (2) the justification of need for acquiring the property and construction of new facilities; (3) the total projected cost of the project delineated by site acquisition, project development, design/construction, and any other relevant costs; (4) any unique requirements of the project which may drive up the cost of the project, such as consular workload, legal environment, physical and/or security requirements, and seismic capabilities; (5) any religious, cultural, or political factors which may affect the cost, location, or construction timeline; (6) the current and projected number of desks, agency presence, and the projected number of United States direct hire staff, Locally Engaged Staff, and Third Country Nationals; (7) the current and projected number of beds, if applicable; (8) the most recent rightsizing analysis; and (9) a justification for exceeding the staffing projections of such rightsizing analysis, if applicable.

Additionally, the Committee directs the Department of State to carefully review the design and cost of the Mexico City new embassy compound and to provide updated design plans and options for reducing the cost of the facility to the Committees on Appropriations prior to the obligation of additional funds for this project from funds made available in this Act or prior Acts.

 

In 2013, State/OBO awarded the New U.S. Embassy Mexico City project to Tod Williams Billie Tsien/ Davis Brody Bond Architects and Planners Joint Venture. It is listed as a capital program project for FY2015 (pdf).

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Cuban Twitter: Short Message Service for Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of Pakistan?

— Domani Spero

The month of April started off with a bang for USAID!  We saw the Twitter Cubano story first, and then there’s USAID’s reportedly $1billion a year “DARPA-like” innovation lab.  Also SIGAR John Sopko accused USAID of cover up in Afghanistan. And no, USAID Administrator is not going to New Delhi as the next US Ambassador to India. We were seriously intrigued by  the ZunZuneo story, the secret Cuban Twitter reported by the Associated Press. Can you blame us?

 

We thought the Associated Press did a great investigative piece. Sorry, we are not convinced that this was ‘breathlessly written.’

In July 2010, Joe McSpedon, a U.S. government official, flew to Barcelona to put the final touches on a secret plan to build a social media project aimed at undermining Cuba’s communist government.

McSpedon and his team of high-tech contractors had come in from Costa Rica and Nicaragua, Washington and Denver. Their mission: to launch a messaging network that could reach hundreds of thousands of Cubans. To hide the network from the Cuban government, they would set up a byzantine system of front companies using a Cayman Islands bank account, and recruit unsuspecting executives who would not be told of the company’s ties to the U.S. government.

McSpedon didn’t work for the CIA. This was a program paid for and run by the U.S. Agency for International Development, best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid.

For a look on how much the U.S. Government spent on Cuban Democracy between 1996-2011, see a snapshot of the funding here.

In an interview with Popular Science, USAID’s Administrator, Rajiv Shah, who led USAID through the program, defended it.

“One of the areas we work in is in the area of rights protection and accountability,” Shah said. The highest-level official named in the AP documents is a mid-level manager named Joe McSpedon.

But Shah—despite the fact that the program was unknown to the public—said the idea that ZunZuneo was a covert operation is “inaccurate,” and pointed out that there are other USAID programs that require secrecy, such as protecting the identities of humanitarian workers in Syria. “These projects are notified to Congress and the subject of a thorough accountability report,” he said.

 

The AP story mentions two USAID connected companies: Creative Associates International as contractor and Denver-based Mobile Accord Inc. as one of the subcontractors.

According to Denver Business Journal, Mobile Accord is the parent organization of the mGive business, which helps nonprofits raise donation via text message, and of the GeoPoll business handling opinion surveys in developing nations.

The Guardian reports that the money that Creative Associates spent on ZunZuneo was “publicly earmarked for an unspecified project in Pakistan, government data show. But there is no indication of where the funds were actually spent.”

So we went digging over at USASpending.gov. The first contract we located is a State Department contract with Mobile Accord in the amount of $969,000 and signed on September 18, 2009.  The contract description says: “Short Message Service Support to Be Provided to Displaced People in the Northwest Frontier of PAKISTAN.”

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The second contract also with Mobile Accord in the amount of $720,000 was signed in July 8, 2010:

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So if Twitter Cubano was not a “covert”operation, what’s this over $1.6 million contract between the State Department and Mobile Accord for the Northwest Frontier Pakistan about?  The folks who prepared this data for USASpending.gov did not really intend to be inaccurate with this public information, right?  They just inadvetently spelled ‘Cuba’ as ‘Northwest Frontier Pakistan.’

And this is the official version of  ‘truth in reporting”as public service? What you don’t know can’t harm you?

If this money actually went to Twitter Cubano, and was hidden in plain sight, how are we to believe the accuracy of the data we see on the USASpending website?

Where else do we have similar projects for democracy promotion and/or regime change if possible, do you know?

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Snapshot: Cuba Democracy Funding to State and USAID – FY1996-2011

— Domani Spero

The Associated Press recently produced an investigative piece on ZunZuneo, a Twitter Cubano reportedly aimed at undermining the socialist government in Cuba that was managed by USAID.

The official government response cited a GAO report from 2013 which make no mention of ZunZeneo. The report, however, provides a snapshot of how much we have spent on the Cuba Democracy project from 1996-2011. Ay mucho dinero:

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, Congress appropriated $205 million for Cuba democracy assistance, appropriating 87 percent of these funds since 2004. Increased funding for Cuba democracy assistance was recommended by the interagency Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which was established by President George W. Bush in 2003.13 Program funding, which peaked in 2008 with appropriations totaling $44.4 million, has ranged between $15 and $20 million per year during fiscal years 2009 through 2012. For fiscal year 2013, USAID and State reduced their combined funding request to $15 million, citing operational challenges to assistance efforts in Cuba.14

In fiscal years 1996 through 2011, $138.2 million of Cuba democracy funds were allocated to USAID and $52.3 million were allocated to State. (see GAO report pdf).

 

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