Category Archives: New Embassy Compound

Snapshot: State Dept Overseas Real Property Acquisitions & Disposals (FY2008-2013)

– Domani Spero

 

 Via GAO

Our analysis of State’s real property portfolio indicated that the overall inventory has increased. State reported its leased properties, which make up approximately 75 percent of the inventory, increased from approximately 12,000 to 14,000 between 2008 and 2013. However, comparing the total number of owned properties between years can be misleading because State’s method of counting these properties has been evolving over the past several years. OBO officials explained that in response to changes in OMB’s and FRPP’s reporting guidance, they have made efforts to count properties more precisely. For example, OBO has focused on separately capturing structural assets previously recorded as part of another building asset, such as perimeter walls, guard booths, and other ancillary structures. As a result of this effort, State recorded approximately 650 additional structural assets in its fiscal year 2012 FRPP report and approximately 900 more structures the following year in its fiscal year 2013 FRPP report, according to OBO officials.

Screen Shot 2014-11-26 at 9.11.13 AM

Acquisitions: State reported spending more than $600 million to acquire nearly 300 properties from fiscal year 2008 through 2013 (see fig.1).11 State uses two sources of funding to acquire real property. It acquires land for building new embassy compounds (NEC) with funding from the CSCS program. It acquires residences, offices, and other functional facilities with proceeds from the disposal of unneeded property. In fiscal years 2008 through 2013, State reported spending approximately $400 million of these disposal proceeds to acquire approximately 230 properties.

Disposals: From fiscal years 2008 through 2013, State reported selling approximately 170 properties. In doing so, it received approximately $695 million in proceeds (see fig.1). According to State, property vacated when personnel move into newly constructed facilities is the largest source of property that can be disposed of. When State completes construction of a NEC, personnel previously working in different facilities at multiple locations are then collocated into the same NEC, a move that provides State an opportunity to dispose of its former facilities. Further information on State’s acquisitions and disposals from fiscal year 2008 through 2013, can be found in figures 1 and 2 below.

Leases: The majority of State’s leased properties are residences. State reported spending approximately $500 million on leases in 2013 and projects a potential increase to approximately $550 million by 2016 as growing populations in urban centers around the world push rental costs higher and the U.S. government’s overseas presence increases.

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Dawn of Libya militia holds pool party at U.S. Embassy Libya Annex; they’ll cut the grass, too?

– Domani Spero

 

Updated on 8/31/14 at 2302 PST:  AP and Reuters have an update on this here including additional photos of the rooms in the annex that appear to be in the condition they were left behind; the pantry appears to still have food items, the kitchen and gym did not look looted and the compound did not show signs of the reported “storming.”

Updated on 9/1/14 at 9:26pm PST: ABC News has additional photos of the annex here. Plus this: “Another commander said the group had asked cleaners to come spruce up the grounds and that U.S. staff were welcome to reside in the embassy while it was under Dawn of Libya control.”

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A commander of the Dawn of Libya militia, an Islamist-allied group in control of Tripoli has told an AP reporter that it has “secured” a U.S. Embassy residential compound in the capital city.  The AP report says that a walk-through in the compound shows some broken windows, but that “it appeared most of the equipment there remained untouched. The journalist saw treadmills, food, televisions and computers still inside.”

On July 26, the State Department suspended all embassy operations in Libya and evacuated all its staff overland to Tunisia (see State Dept Suspends All Embassy Operations in Libya, Relocates Staff Under Armed Escorts).  The U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones is currently based at the U.S. Embassy in Malta.

 

Meanwhile, at the pool party at Embassy Tripoli’s compound residential annex:

 

And because Ambassador Jones is now reachable via Twitter, she was asked about it:

 

We don’t know what that means.  Who told these guys to “safeguard” a U.S. diplomatic property?  Did they bring their own whiskey to the pool party?

The good news is —  the Dawn of Libya militia apparently wrestled the compound from a rivaled militia and neither group set the compound on fire.  The bad news is “securing” the compound was apparently done to avenge U.S. airstrikes. If true, just “securing” the compound, a sip of whiskey and having a dip in the pool may not be enough.

The other good news , of course, if the U.S. needs to, DOD knows where  exactly to send its Predator drones and Navy F-18 fighter jets.

Not that we want the Pentagon to do that for many reasons.  Perhaps the uninvited guests can be persuaded to cut the grass, too, while they’re there?

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Filed under Ambassadors, Foreign Service, New Embassy Compound, Photo of the Day, Realities of the FS, Social Media, State Department, U.S. Missions, War

State Department’s Embassy “Design Excellence” Initiative: Year in Review (Video)

– Domani Spero

 

The State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations has just released a ‘Year in Review 2013-2014′ video, primarily highlighting the new embassies built under its “design excellence”initiative. You will note that some of the projects in this video have been completed while others like the New London Embassy, and those buildings in artist’s renderings are still undergoing construction or in the early phases of the projects  and won’t be completed for a few more years.

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) “sets worldwide priorities for the design, construction, acquisition, maintenance, use, and sale of real properties and the use of sales proceeds” for the State Department. The bureau has recently caught congressional attention with its New London Embassy project and its “design excellence” initiative. See Congress to State Dept: We Want All Your Stuff on New London Embassy Except Paperclips and New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?

We understand that the bureau is still working on providing Congress with the documents requested during the latest congressional hearing. Congress won’t be back in session until September 8, and then, it will only conduct business for a couple of weeks before it runs out again.  Nonetheless, we are hearing that there may be personnel shuffles at the bureau in the offing.  We’ll update when we know more.

 

Related items:

-05/31/11   Compliance Follow-up Review of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (ISP-C-11-26)  [2452 Kb]  Posted June 8, 2011

-08/30/08   Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (ISP-I-08-34) Aug 2008  [1846 Kb]

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Filed under Congress, Construction, Contractors, Foreign Service, Functional Bureaus, New Embassy Compound, Social Media, State Department, U.S. Missions, Video of the Week

New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?

– Domani Spero

 

Last week, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing on Examining New Embassy Construction: Are New Administration Policies Putting Americans Overseas in Danger? The congressional witnesses to the full committee hearing included Lydia Muniz, the Director, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations at the State Department (prepared statement here pdf), Casey Jones, the Deputy Director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) who oversees the Program Development, Coordination and Support and Construction, Facilities and Security Management Directorates. Previously, he was the Director of Excellence in Diplomatic Facilities, assisting the Department in launching its Excellence initiative (see prepared statement here pdf), and Grant S. Green, Jr., the State Department Under Secretary for Management from 2001 to 2005 and  panel chairperson of the State Department Report on Diplomatic Security Organization and Management.  The report which remains under SBU cloak was leaked to Al Jazeera in May 2014 but is available online here. Congress is apparently not happy that the report was not made available to them and that they had to print it out from the AJAM website.

The accompanying Al Jazeera report says:

A confidential government report obtained by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit sharply criticizes the U.S. Department of State’s diplomatic security operations and raises serious concerns about an elaborate embassy construction program overseas.
[…]
The panel also delivered a stiff jab to another State Department entity, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), which supervises the design and construction of U.S. facilities abroad. The bureau is pushing a new design and building program that, department officials said, enhances the appearance of overseas facilities but also provides essential security for the safety of U.S. personnel.

But here is the part of that AJAM report that should have perked many ears in Foggy Bottom:

William Miner, the former director of the OBO’s design and engineering office, said the department began using Standard Embassy Design a few years after the East African bombings at two U.S. embassies in 1998. The buildings were constructed quickly and were “very secure, very safe.” He explained, “You needed to get people under cover and use a standardized approach to do that. OBO actually designed and built over 100 embassies using that strategy.”

On the other hand, Miner said, “we went overboard from a safety and security standpoint.” Now, with the transition to Design Excellence, he said he worries that “the pendulum will swing in the other direction with the design issues.” The challenge, he said, is to find “the right balance.”

Miner said he retired from the State Department in January, as did others who worked for him. He said the changes in the design program and a desire to pursue other professional interests were factors in his decision to leave after 28 years.

Miner said he registered his concerns over the design approach with senior OBO officials. “I was not alone in shouting in the wind,” he said. “The office of diplomatic security shouted even more forcefully,” expressing the view that the Design Excellence program was “a bad way to go.”

Discussing the development of the new London embassy, now under construction, Miner said that the planned curtain wall façade is “fragile,” adding, “You don’t want to beg for problems but this façade could be asking for trouble.”

Last month, CBS News reported on the Design Excellence with specific focus on the New London Embassy’s (NLE) blast proof glass:

The State Department has made design a priority for U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. New buildings must be better looking and more energy efficient. But CBS News has learned this is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars — while potentially keeping American officials in harm’s way.

A striking glass structure, set to open in 2017, will be the new U.S. embassy in London. But six months into construction, CBS News has learned, the project is already at least $100 million over the initial cost estimate, partly due to manufacturing challenges with the design’s six-inch-thick blast-proof glass.

When HOGR had its hearing last week, the Committee did not invite Mr. Miner who left the State Department after 28 years of service. The Committee also did not invite anyone from Diplomatic Security. Instead the Committee invited Mr. Green who left the State Department in 2005, and Mr. Casey who was recruited by the State Department in 2012. Sometime after 2009, Ms. Muniz served as Principal Deputy Director at OBO prior to her appointment as OBO director in 2012.  Of course, Congress wanted hear from these witnesses; Mr. Green chaired the panel that did the report that was leaked to AJAM but did we really need the top two officials from OBO there? What’s with a hearing on “putting Americans overseas in danger” without Diplomatic Security (DS), the bureau “responsible for providing a safe and secure environment for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy” as a witness? And no one wants to hear first-hand from Mr. Miner why he and some of his staff quit OBO?

Our State Department source familiar with OBO work told us that this glass facade issue has been “an enormous point of contention between DS and OBO for a year or more,” but it hadn’t gotten into the press before the AJAM story in May.  Our source speaking on background as he/she is not authorized to speak for the State Department says that Mr. Miner headed all of OBO’s design and engineering work, and if he doesn’t think the London design will work for blast protection, then “I assume Congress may want to call him for a hearing.” So far, it doesn’t look like Congress is anxious to talk to him.

But here’s the kicker:

Our source said that the New London Embassy (NLE) “went into construction before its glass facade design was tested to confirm it will meet blast standards.”

This wouldn’t have the potential of leaving  OBO with a billion-dollar fiasco, would it?  Also — is this the kind of thing that would make a veteran official like Miner and some of his staff quit their jobs?

Our source explained that  the testing was needed only because the New London Embassy does not use known, familiar, window systems. The curtain wall apparently has no frames to ‘bite’ the glass and retain it under blast. That is a new technique for OBO we’re told, so the bureau reportedly had no basis to analyze the design.

Here is what Ms. Muniz said in May when the AJAM story broke:

Lydia Muniz, director of the OBO, said in an interview with Al Jazeera that the London design meets DS safety and security standards. If there are any problems in testing for blast vulnerability, she said, steps will be taken to rectify the situation. Asked if an earlier test failed, she said, “We are still testing. We don’t make any final determinations until the completion of testing, including the full-scale mock-up, which has not taken place yet. I would not say that it failed.”
[…]
“Safety and security are not taking a back seat under this program,” she said. “There is no diminishing in any way the security standards that diplomatic security puts forward.”

Forgive us for not understanding this — how can anyone say that the design meets DS safety and security standards if  testing has not yet been completed?  Isn’t that a tad premature?  And, should we expect some quibbling about the meaning of these test results in the future?

Dear Diplomatic Security, we hope you have nordstromed yourselves!

It’s been a couple of months since that AJAM interview.  So, did the curtain wall/windows withstand the blast test yet?  Yes? No? Maybe? Are we all confident about the results? Might we learn more about this test results from the Congress, or State/OIG or GAO anytime soon?

New Embassy London

New Embassy London via Google Images

Now, the good news apparently is that the lower-level construction that’s going on now at the New London Embassy is separate from the curtain wall and windows.  We understand that is fine and chugging along to 2017. But allow us to be the curmudgeon in the room and say, what if …

…what if when completed, the tests indicates a blast vulnerability?

The New London Embassy cost approximately a billion dollars.

How much would it cost to “rectify the situation” for the curtain walls/windows for a building like this, if needed?

 

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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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Filed under Afghanistan, Budget, Congress, Construction, Follow the Money, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, New Embassy Compound, Pakistan, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Kabul, War

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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U.S. Embassy Iraq: By The Numbers — Still The Post With the Mostest

– Domani Spero

The New Embassy Compound (NEC) in Baghdad was the most expensive construction in the world in 2009.  Although a fixed amount is hard to come by, it is estimated that the construction cost amounted to approximately $700 million.  In 2012, WaPo reported a $115 million embassy upgrade.  If we add that and all other State Department capital projects in Iraq from FY2011, we would have to add approximately $411 million to the cost of the USG footprint in Iraq. Despite the recent rightsizing exercise, it remains the largest, and the most expensive diplomatic mission in the world.

The 104-acre U.S. Embassy in Iraq is the largest embassy in the world not just in terms of size at 420,873 square meters, but also personnel at 5,500 (estimated Jan 2014 headcount) and operational cost at $3.23 billion in FY2012. (Note: It is not the largest site in terms of  diplomatic properties as the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center (BDSC) compound is located on a 350-acre facility adjacent to Baghdad International Airport).  A quick comparison — one of our smallest embassies, the US Embassy in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea is 1,208 square meters, so 348 US Embassy Malabo NECs would fit into Embassy Baghdad. As well, the New Embassy London is 54,000 square meters, so about 7 1/2 of them would fit into Embassy Baghdad.

It may be that in a couple of years, with the ongoing construction of the New Embassy London and New Embassy Islamabad (each may hit the $1 billion mark), Embassy Baghdad will no longer be the most expensive embassy in the world, but for now, it is still the post with the mostest.

In 2009, the OIG inspectors identified the number of factors that have contributed to the size of this Embassy:

(1) implementation of a civilian assistance program of over $24 billion;
(2) a wide-ranging capacity-building program covering most key ministries in the Iraqi National Government and, through the PRTs, all provincial governments;
(3) the legacy of running the country and then working hand-in-glove with the Iraqis as they assumed more responsibility for funding their own development;
(4) the need to coordinate with the U.S. military in practically all aspects of the Embassy’s responsibilities; and
(5) the inability to have host-country LE staff provide the support and services that they do in almost all other embassies in the world. Also, the fact that employees can take three separate 22-day long rest and recuperation trips (R&Rs) means that staffing has to be larger to ensure full coverage.

One could argue that a combination of the above reasons are also driving the size and growth of our embassies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

According to the OIG, Embassy Baghdad’s security budget in 2012 was $698 million. It notes that “As long as the staff cannot move safely and independently outside compound walls, maintaining a robust security apparatus and meeting the life support needs of the mission staff will require significantly more financial and personnel resources than at other U.S. missions.”

In 2013, the OIG inspectors warned that the large Iraq footprints, expensive to guard and maintain even after the rightsizing exercise, will strain support for diplomatic facilities worldwide when special appropriations that fund them end.

On June 16, 2014, the President transmitted a report notifying the Congress that up to approximately 275 U.S. military personnel are deploying to Iraq to provide support and security for U.S. personnel and the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Today, AFPS reports that President Obama announced plans to send up to 300 military advisers to Iraq to help the government in Baghdad combat a rapid advance by Sunni-led insurgents.

Here is Embassy Iraq, by the numbers:

Screen Shot 2014-06-19

#a. Audit 2009: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/131069.pdf

#b. US Mission Iraq: Twelve Things You Might Not Know About the Largest Embassy in the World
#c. fedbiz.gov
#d. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embassy_of_the_United_States,_Baghdad
#e. Malabo:  http://overseasbuildings.state.gov/sites/admin-overseasbuildings.state.gov/files/pdfs/malabo_508.pdf
#f. London: http://overseasbuildings.state.gov/sites/admin-overseasbuildings.state.gov/files/pdfs/london_508.pdf
#g. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/baghdad-s-fortress-america-us-builds-bunker-of-an-embassy-in-iraq-a-511579.html
#h. OBO Inspection 2008: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/109074.pdf
#i.  Embassy Baghdad Inspection 2013: http://oig.state.gov/documents/organization/210403.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Af/Pak, Construction, Diplomatic Security, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Iraq, New Embassy Compound, Pakistan, Real Post of the Month, Realities of the FS, Security, Staffing the FS, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Baghdad, War

U.S. Embassy Pakistan to Get ‘Camel Contemplating Needle’ Sculpture at Reduced Price, Let’s Buy Two!

– Domani Spero

 

Joshua White, the deputy director for South Asia at the Stimson Center tweeted this last week:

On March 30, The Skeptical Bureaucrat blogged about it:

The U.S. State Department has purchased for $400,000 a reproduction of that sculpture you see in the photo above, and will display it at the new U.S. Embassy that is now being constructed in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Acquisition of “Camel Contemplating Needle” by John Baldessari. Includes production cost related to the procurement of representational artwork to be displayed at the new US Embassy Islamabad and reproduction rights.

Representational artwork in embassies is intended for cross-cultural understanding through the visual arts, or something like that. So, what does that sculpture say about how the United States sees its relations with Pakistan? Is one of us the camel and the other the needle?

Today, it became a Buzzfeed Exclusive, U.S. Taxpayers To Spend $400,000 For A Camel Sculpture In Pakistan:

A camel staring at the eye of a needle would decorate a new American embassy — in a country where the average income yearly is $1,250.
[…]
Officials explained the decision to purchase the piece of art, titled “Camel Contemplating Needle,” in a four-page document justifying a “sole source” procurement. “This artist’s product is uniquely qualified,” the document explains. “Public art which will be presented in the new embassy should reflect the values of a predominantly Islamist country,” it says. (Like the Bible, the Qur’an uses the metaphor of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.)

To emphasize Baldassari’s fame, the contracting officials pulled a section from Wikipedia. “John Anthony Baldessari (born June 17, 1931) is an American conceptual artist known for his work featuring found photography and appropriated images.”

In a statement, State Department press spokeswoman Christine Foushee said the proposed purchase comes from the department’s “Office of Art in Embassies.” In new construction projects, she said, a small part of the total funds, about 0.5%, is spent on art purchases.

Steven Beyer of Beyer Projects, the art dealer for the project, points out to Buzzfeed that while some Americans may find it frivolous for the government to pay for art, others will find it important. “It depends on what part of the public you are in,” he said. “If you go to the museum and enjoy art and are moved by it, things cost what they cost.”

“Things cost what they cost” would make a nice motto.

In December 2013, The Skeptical Bureaucrat also blogged about the  artwork of Sean Scully that will be displayed at the future new U.S. Embassy in London:

The incomparable State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf displayed some performance art of her own at last Friday’s daily press briefing when she tried to explain why she thinks this purchase is “a good use of our limited resources” (yes, she does):

Okay, on the artwork, we have an Art in Embassies program run through the Office of Art in Embassies which curates permanent and temporary exhibitions for U.S. embassy and consulate facilities. It’s a public-private partnership engaging over 20,000 participants globally, including artists, museums, galleries, universities, and private collectors. For the past five decades, Art in Embassies has played a leading role in U.S. public diplomacy with a focused mission of cross-cultural dialogue and understanding through the visual arts and the artist exchange.

In terms of the London piece, like much of the art purchased by this program, this piece was purchased under the market price after considerable negotiation with both the artist and the gallery. This is an important part of our diplomatic presence overseas. We maintain facilities that serve as the face of the U.S. Government all throughout the world, and where we can promote cross-cultural understanding, and in this case do so for under market value, we think that’s a good use of our limited resources. Yes, we do.

Expect the official response to inquiries on the albino camel with blue eyes contemplating a gigantic needle artwork to take a similar line.

Go ahead, and just write your copy already.

Here’s one that reportedly takes 3 days to clean to bring on the full shine!

Tulips by Jeff Koon U.S. Embassy Beijing, China

Tulips by Jeff Koon
U.S. Embassy Beijing, China Photo via Art in Embassies/FB

 

The Office of Art in Embassies, in the Directorate for Operations, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO/OPS/ART) curates, plans, and administers exhibitions of original art for the chief of mission residences overseas. It is also the office which oversees all aspects of the creation of permanent collections for new embassies and consulates through the Capital Security Construction Program. With a focus on cultural diplomacy, these collections feature the artistic heritage of the host country and the United States.

So far, we have not been able to locate a list of the artworks in the State Department’s permanent art collection.

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US Embassy London: Don’t Worry, Be Happy — New Digs Not Funded By Appropriated Funds

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— Domani 
Spero

The U.S. Ambassador to London Matthew Barzun used his new Tumblr to dispel possible misconceptions concerning the construction of the U.S. Embassy in London following reports of funding prohibitions under the FY2014 Omnibus:

I noticed a few news outlets this week reporting that funding for the construction of our new Embassy building may be removed. As this might cause concern among those excited and invested in the redevelopment of Nine Elms, I wanted to put minds at rest.

The new building project is being funded entirely by the proceeds of the sale of other U.S. Government properties in London, not through appropriated funds. This has always been the plan. The proposed Omnibus Spending Bill does not provide any new, additional, restrictions to that plan.

So, construction continues and each month we get closer to the opening day. In the meantime, every six months, the State Department will report to Congress on progress. Our shared future, in a new part of this great city, continues.

The above item is posted here: http://matthewbarzun.tumblr.com.

Photo via US Embassy London/Flickr

Photo via US Embassy London/Flickr

We should note that the State Department signed a conditional agreement with the real estate developer Ballymore to acquire a site in the Nine Elms Opportunity Area in Wandsworth for the construction of a new embassy back in oh, October 2008. That initial agreement was conditioned on the approval of the United States Congress and local planning authorities. In November 2009, the Department entered into an agreement to sell the Chancery in London, located in Grosvenor Square.  The sale is to Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company headquartered in Doha, Qatar.  Then Ambassador Robert Tuttle, President George W. Bush appointee from 2005-2009, led the search for a new site. The 2009 sale agreement with the Qatari company was signed by President Obama’s first appointee to London, Ambassador Louis B. Susman. In November 2013, President Obama’s second appointee to London, Ambassador Barzun presided the groundbreaking ceremony of the new U.S. Embassy in the Nine Elms neighborhood in London.

While the sale of the U.S. Embassy property in Grosvenor Square was widely reported, the selling price was not widely known.  The London Evening Standard in 2009 reported that the embassy building was sold to Qatari Diar — the property development arm of the Qatari royal family — for an estimated £500 million (The report also noted that the 225,000 sq ft building could be worth as much as £1 billion when developed).  According to news report quoting Adam Namm, then acting director of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (now current ambassador to Ecuador), the new embassy in London estimated to cost $1-billion would be “in the ballpark of the most expensive embassies we have built.”

The FY2014 Omnibus was signed into law by President Obama on January 17, 2014. The only reference to the U.S. Embassy in London that we could locate is under Sec. 7004 under Diplomatic Facilities (p.1148):

(e)(1) The limitation and reporting requirement regarding the New London Embassy contained in section 7004(f) of division I of Public Law 112–74 shall remain in effect during fiscal year 2014.

We dug up PL 112-74 to take a look. Here’s what it says:

(f)(1) None of the funds appropriated under the heading ‘‘Embassy Security, Construction, and Maintenance’’ in this Act and in prior Acts making appropriations for the Department of State, foreign operations, and related programs, made available through Federal agency Capital Security Cost Sharing contributions and reimbursements, or generated from the proceeds of real property sales, other than from real property sales located in London, United Kingdom, may be made available for site acquisition and mitigation, planning, design or construction of the New London Embassy.

(2) Within 60 days of enactment of this Act and every 6 months thereafter until completion of the New London Embassy, the Secretary of State shall submit to the Committees on Appropriations a report on the project: Provided, That such report shall include revenue and cost projections, cost containment efforts, project schedule and actual project status, the impact of currency exchange rate fluctuations on project revenue and costs, and options for modifying the scope of the project in the event that proceeds of real property sales in London fall below the total cost of the project.

So no appropriated funds and the funding prohibition in the proposed omnibus does not appear to be in the final version signed by the president. The reporting requirement remains the same at 60 days and every six months thereafter until the embassy is completed in 2017.

Now — if the cost of building a new one in London is about $1 billion and Congress did not and will not make any appropriation for its construction, then that sale price must have cost more than the estimated £500 million. Just an aside — the US Embassy in Iraq, the most expensive embassy we have built to completion todate was started in 2005 and was completed in 2008 at a total cost of $592 million. VOA reported cost of more than $600million, USAToday reported total cost of $700million and in June 2012, WaPo’s Walter Pincus reported cost at $700 million plus $115 million to upgrade.

In any case, two things can happen here: 1) total sale price covers all construction cost and new embassy debuts in 2017; 2) total sale price covers all construction cost of the new embassy but not potential technical/design adjustments or potential cost overruns. If #2 happens, Congress will, at least, have a 6-month notice. If Congress decides to pay expenses in excess of funds from sale, it has two more fy appropriation cycle to make funds available.  Or not. If that happens, the State Department will have to look for other sources of funding. It sits on an annual visa collection fees of over $3 billion, by the way, but that will need congressional approval. Also  Winfield House is on 12 acres of grounds in Regent’s Park, so there’s that.  The mansion reportedly only cost US taxpayers $1.00 when the USG bought it from American heiress Barbara Hutton after World War II. Of course, the mansion which serves as the ambassador’s residence is in the Secretary of State’s Register of Culturally Significant Property, so there’s that, too. Lots of ifs but that’s all potentially in the future, which should be far and away and uncomplicated unless you’re Doctor Who.

No, as far as we know … no, they’re not planning to auction you to pay for the new embassy.  But the groundbreaking just occurred a couple of months ago, so there’s a long ways to go.

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FY2014 Omnibus – State and Foreign Operations Appropriations: $49 Billion

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— Domani Spero

On January 13, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, House Appropriations Ranking Member Nita Lowey, and Senate Appropriations Ranking Member Richard Shelby announced the release of the fiscal year 2014 consolidated appropriations bill.  The bill provides $1.012 trillion for the operation of the federal government and avoids a government shutdown. The Omnibus contains all 12 regular appropriations bills for fiscal year 2014, with no area of the government functioning under a Continuing Resolution.  Below is a quick summary of the FY 2014 Omnibus – State and Foreign Operations Appropriations:

The State and Foreign Operations portion of the fiscal year 2014 Omnibus contains funding to support American interests, diplomatic operations, and humanitarian assistance abroad. In total, the legislation provides $49 billion in discretionary funding – $4.3 billion less than the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.

Within the total, the bill provides full funding for embassy security – plus additional funds for upgrades of temporary missions, such as Benghazi – to prevent and protect against future terrorist attacks, unrest, and other acts of violence.

The bill also provides funding to support security and stability in the Middle East – including for our key allies such as Israel and Jordan and the frontline states of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. For Afghanistan, the bill provides the resources needed for diplomats and development experts to operate safely, but scales back assistance programs to a more sustainable level as U.S. armed forces drawdown during 2014. In addition, contingency funding is included for other areas of conflict and emerging crises, such as Syria and Africa.

In addition, the bill prioritizes global health, humanitarian, and democracy promotion programs – while reducing funding in other lower-priority areas – to advance American interests around the globe and to fulfill the nation’s moral obligation to those in dire need.

State Department Operations and Related Agencies – The bill contains a total of $15.7 billion in base and contingency funding for operational costs of the State Department and related agencies – a decrease of $2.4 billion below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level and $1 billion less than the request. Within this total, the legislation provides $5.4 billion – $25 million above the amount requested – for embassy security costs relating to the protection of personnel and facilities.

United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Operations – The bill contains $1.3 billion for USAID operations, a reduction of $215 million from the fiscal year 2013 enacted level. Within this total, $91 million is provided for contingency funding for USAID operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and for the USAID Inspector General to conduct appropriate and rigorous oversight of U.S. taxpayer dollars in those countries.

Funding Prohibitions – The bill seeks to promote good government and rein in unnecessary spending by prohibiting or eliminating funding for a variety of projects and activities. Some include:

    • A prohibition on funding for the renovation of UN Headquarters in New York;
    • A prohibition on appropriations for a new London embassy;
    • Providing no funding or authorities for debt relief for foreign countries;
    • A prohibition on funding to move the Vatican embassy unless certain conditions are met to maintain its importance and authority;
    • A prohibition on aid to Libya until the Secretary of State confirms Libyan cooperation in the Benghazi investigation;
    • A prohibition on funding to implement the UN Arms Trade Treaty; and
    • Providing no funding for assessed and voluntary contributions for the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Groundbreaking Ceremony, U.S. Embassy London November 2013 (Photo via US Embassy London/Flickr)

Groundbreaking Ceremony, U.S. Embassy London
November 2013
(Photo via US Embassy London/Flickr)

International Security Assistance – The bill provides a total of $8.5 billion in base and contingency funding for international security assistance. This includes funds for international narcotics control, anti-terrorism programs, nonproliferation programs, peacekeeping operations, and other critical international security and stabilization efforts. It also provides funds to support ongoing counter-narcotics and law enforcement efforts in Mexico, Colombia, and Central America.

Israel: In addition, the legislation provides security assistance to key allies, including fully funding the $3.1 billion commitment to the United States-Israel Memorandum of Understanding.

Egypt: Allows requested funds to be provided to Egypt if certain conditions are met – including maintaining the strategic relationship with the United States, upholding the peace treaty with Israel, and meeting milestones Egyptians have set for their political transition.

Palestinian Authority: The legislation stops economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority if the Palestinians obtain membership to the United Nations or UN agencies without an agreement with Israel. In addition, the bill puts new restrictions on aid if the Palestinians pursue actions against Israel at the International Criminal Court. New language is included to ensure that the Palestinian Authority is taking action to counter incitement of violence.

Afghanistan:  Withholds funds for the Government of Afghanistan until certain conditions are met, including having a signed Bilateral Security Agreement and safeguards being in place to ensure that U.S. assistance is not taxed. It also withholds a portion of funds until proper security is in place for implementers of USAID and State Department programs. In addition, the legislation strengthens requirements on the rights of Afghan women and girls and combatting corruption.

According to WaPo, the measure includes $85.2 billion for military operations in Afghanistan, a $2 billion cut from fiscal 2013 due in part to ongoing troop reductions. But the agreement also withholds money for the Afghan government “until certain conditions are met,” including a decision to sign a new bilateral security agreement (via).

The bill reportedly also authorizes a 1 percent pay increase for civilian federal workers and U.S. military personnel.

Read more on State here. See the Appropriations Committee here.  WaPo has a quick look at the winners and losers of the new spending bill. here.

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