Category Archives: New Embassy Compound

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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Filed under Construction, Diplomacy, Follow the Money, New Embassy Compound, Pakistan, State Department, U.S. Missions

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

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– Domani 

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:

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

|| >    We’re running our crowdfunding project from January 1 to February 15, 2014. If you want to keep us around, see Help Diplopundit Continue the Chase—Crowdfunding for 2014 via RocketHub  <||

– 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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Filed under Afghanistan, Bills, Congress, Follow the Money, FS Funding, Govt Reports/Documents, New Embassy Compound, State Department, U.S. Missions, USAID

US Embassy Belgrade: Ambassador Michael Kirby Dedicates $149M New Embassy Compound

 By Domani Spero

The US Ambassador to Serbia Michael Kirby recently dedicated the new embassy compound in Belgrade.  The project which, according to State/OBO had an original completion date of May 10, 2012 was dedicated on July 1, 2013.


Photo from

Photo from


In an important symbol of America’s commitment to an enduring friendship with the Republic of Serbia, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia, Michael D. Kirby, dedicated the new U.S. Embassy in Belgrade today.

Occupying a 10-acre site adjacent to the Beli Dvor, the $149 million multi-building complex provides a secure, state-of-the-art, environmentally-sustainable workplace for over 350 embassy personnel.

Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects, LLP was the concept design architect and The Louis Berger Group of Washington, D.C. was the architect of record. The project was constructed by Framaco International of Rye Brook, New York.

The new facility incorporates numerous sustainable features to reduce operating costs and conserve resources, most notably a storm water detention pond; solar hot water technology; low-flow plumbing fixtures; and the careful selection of plantings to reduce the amount of irrigation needed. The facility has been registered with the U.S. Green Building Council for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) certification.







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GOP’s Benghazi Report: Anonymous DS Agent, Whistleblowers and Embassy “Security”

There are three items we found interesting in Appendix I of the House GOP’s interim report on Benghazi.

House Committee on Government and Oversight Reform: The Committee has heard from, and continues to hear from, multiple individuals with direct and/or indirect information about events surrounding the attacks in Benghazi.

On April 17, CBS News reported that multiple new whistleblowers are privately speaking to investigators with the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and that the Committee had sent new letters to the CIA, DOD and State. If there are multiple whistleblowers as claimed here, we could be looking at Benghazi hearings going on all the way to 2014 and even 2016. By then Diplopundit Jr. would be old enough to drive and what more, junior would never ever again confused Benghazi with Bujumbura. So that’s something to look forward to.

House Foreign Affairs Committee: Approached a DS agent who was on the scene in a not-yet-successful effort to obtain additional information. This individual wishes to remain anonymous. 

The individual may wish to remain anonymous but that anonymity is not going to go very far inside the building. How many DS agents were on the scene of the attacks again?  That’s a pretty thin cover.  Poor guy won’t get any peace or space between now and then, whenever then maybe.

House Foreign Affairs Committee: Building on its Benghazi investigation, the Committee is taking a broader look at embassy security to determine whether the State Department is adequately protecting its personnel at other diplomatic facilities. Improving embassy security is a Committee legislative priority. The Committee is particularly concerned about, and is currently investigating, the security situation at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. 

Well, then all we can add is that the Committee better hurry with the broader look Congress is doing before it’s too late.

It can start with the Consulate General in Jeddah

Want to go further than 2007?   Why don’t we try 30 years back with the US Embassy in Beirut?

Apparently, thirty long years after the Beirut embassy bombing, we might be close to finally building a Fortress in Beirut. Ay caramba but it’s now happening!

Proposal for the U.S. Embassy building in Beirut, conceived by Ralph Rapson in 1953.

Proposal for the U.S. Embassy building in Beirut, conceived by Ralph Rapson in 1953. This project is not related to the current one. (image via the Lebanese Architecture Portal – click on image to view original material)

While at it, Congress might want to see if the State Department bothered to learn anything from the embassy mob attacks last year since no ARB was ever convened.  We understand that in some of those posts attacked, there were strict orders from the front office to restrict dissemination of information and photos on the extent of the damages (US Embassy Tunis was one exception).

Might it be true that some of our embassies in the Arab Spring countries are trying to shape perceptions to what they imagine their embassy and host country should be instead of basing post and host country expectations on reality?

If the Committee is particularly concerned about the security situation at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan where we have a large number of contract guards and the U.S. military, should it not be also concerned with the U.S. Embassy in Egypt where neither is present and mobocacy now rules?

– DS

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Filed under Congress, Diplomatic Attacks, Diplomatic Security, Foreign Service, Govt Reports/Documents, Leaks|Controversies, New Embassy Compound, State Department, U.S. Missions, US Embassy Kabul

US Embassy Brunei: Ambassador Shields Gets High Marks for Leadership and Mission Success

US Embassy Bandar Seri Begawan in the Sultanate of Brunei is a small post with 8 U.S. direct-hire Department employees and 64 locally employed (LE) staff. Representatives of the Department of Defense, the Foreign Commercial Service, and other U.S. agencies are nonresident and provide regional support. The total mission budget for FY 2011 was $3.3 million. Actual costs for operations in FY 2010 totaled $3.5 million. The mission is headed by an East Asia hand, Ambassador Daniel L. Shields III who arrived in March 2011, with Alexander L. Barrasso as Deputy Chief of Mission.

State’s OIG recently released its inspection report of the embassy with the following key judgments:

  • Under the assured leadership of a strong Ambassador and deputy chief of mission (DCM), Embassy Bandar Seri Begawan’s small and relatively inexperienced staff is a productive and cohesive team. In areas such as trade, military-to-military relationships, and educational exchanges, the embassy is materially advancing the bilateral relationship.
  • The front office effectively manages interagency coordination and communication, bringing together resident and nonresident staff in common pursuit of mission goals.
  • American employees do multiple jobs and necessarily serve as backups to other colleagues, often with little training. Any absences and gaps strain the remaining American staff. The information management staff may need an additional position, and the political/economic/consular officer position should be made permanent.
  • Brunei will chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2013, placing additional stress on the staff as the embassy supports several high-level visitors.
  • The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) completed construction of a new small embassy in Bandar Seri Begawan in 2010 and considers this a model for future small embassies. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) team identified issues (some of which are discussed in the classified annex) that should be considered in designing and building future standard secure mini-compounds.

New embassy building in Brunei opened in November 2010 and is the first standard secure mini-compound built by OBO
(Photo from US Embassy Brunei)

The IG inspectors also have very nice things to say about the ambassador and his second in command:

Led by the Ambassador, excellent communication and collaboration among the embassy, regional centers, the Washington interagency community, and U.S. firms and universities produced notable advances in trade, security cooperation, and educational exchanges with Brunei. In the embassy’s most outstanding success, Sikorsky representatives commented that the 2011 sale of 12 Blackhawk helicopters to the Bruneian military, a $325 million deal that will support 1,100 U.S. jobs, would not have been possible without the embassy’s leadership.

The Ambassador encourages frequent, lively, inclusive, and dissent-friendly debates on mission objectives and strategy. This approach ensures staff buy-in and keeps the mission’s assessment of its objectives and tactics fresh and current. Embassy personnel understand the Ambassador’s priorities: a more robust security relationship with Brunei; successful commercial and trade advocacy; increased educational exchanges; and a greater Bruneian contribution to regional and international stability. Members of the country team commented approvingly to the OIG team that mission goals are realistic, practical, and achievable. Employees understand and are comfortable with their particular roles in meeting overall objectives.

Mission employees see the Ambassador and DCM as excellent leaders unified in outlook and practice and complementary in their skills. American staff members particularly appreciate the Ambassador’s accessibility and affability, his well-defined vision and lucid instructions, and his obvious interest in their professional and personal welfare. Embassy personnel described the front office team as experts on substance, fair, open-minded, good listeners, responsive, and generous with accolades. The willingness of the Ambassador and DCM to give section heads considerable freedom to manage their portfolios and staffs is welcomed as an empowering vote of trust and confidence. The Ambassador’s weekly one-on-one meetings with each American staff member, combined with the weekly encounter as the country team, provide regular opportunities for give-and-take and emphasize to employees the Ambassador’s interest and availability.

Morale among the eight U.S. direct-hire staff is high; they are collegial and support each other well. Given the small staffing and backup requirements, the degree of cooperation is worth noting. There is no recreation association and no need for one. Food in the local markets is plentiful and internationally sourced.

As to how many hats can one person wear … obviously as many as necessary in a small post like Bandar:

The initiative and activity of the embassy produces significant achievements but at a cost of wear and tear on its limited staff. The OIG team heard several versions of the question: “How many hats can one person wear?” The requirement to do multiple jobs and to serve as backup to one or more colleagues—whether trained for that particular task or not—is a given for American staff. The OIG team found officers and specialists genuinely enthusiastic about their work and wanting to do their best, but stress is common. The prospect of the additional demands in 2013, when Brunei will host the annual ASEAN summit and ancillary high-level international meetings, is creating anxiety among some staff.

Not unheard of in small missions.  Hopefully, they will get some help before the VIPs descend on them next year.  Nice to read a report of a well-run mission for a change where the staff did not run off to the war zone or complain to the press about adjustments to the height of all the tables in the embassy.

Domani Spero


Filed under Ambassadors, Countries 'n Regions, Foreign Service, FSOs, Govt Reports/Documents, Leadership and Management, New Embassy Compound, U.S. Missions

US Embassaurus Baghdad About to Get Even Bigger? Like Super Big? Like LA’s Super Rock?

Mother god of thunder, what wonderful news you bring us!

The US Embassaurus in Baghdad will not just be the biggest and most expensive in the world, it is on its way to becoming super big; like that very big rock in Los Angeles now fondly called, “Levitated Mass, by the artful.

Despite official claims to the contrary of “rightsizing” the mission, this will help ensure that US Embassaurus Baghdad will continue to hold the world’s record as the biggest with the mostest.  Yes, yes, by all means — go bid there during the AIP cycle (is that about now?) while it is still the record holder.  Just so you know that US Embassy London, US Embassy Kabul and US Embassy Islamabad are all vying for that same dubious honor.  Of course, given all accommodation shown by our friends allies frienemies in Pakistan in the construction of the new diplomatic digs there, and given the potential that they would want to shave off the floors above four-five storeys, there is a fighting chance that US Embassy Pakistan will grab the record before all this is over.

Via WaPo’s Walter Pincus:

The State Department is planning to spend up to $115 million to upgrade the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad, already its biggest and most expensive in the world, according to pre-solicitation notices published this month.

Remember, it has been 3 1 / 2 years since American diplomats moved into the 104-acre, $700 million facility and only four months after State officials in February talked about trying to cut back the U.S. presence there.

State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) put out a statement Wednesday saying new planning began after it was determined there needed to be “a larger population on the Baghdad Embassy compound, due to the consolidation of satellite diplomatic facilities and property around Baghdad.”
The statement added, “The consolidation takes the overall diplomatic property in Baghdad down by one-third, but increases the personnel working and living on the Embassy compound.”

Here is a quick rundown:

SAQMMA-12-R0271-:  Baghdad, Iraq, New Power Plant, Life Safety and Utility Infrastructure Upgrade Project

Estimated Price Tag: $60 – 80 million

Estimated performance period:  24 months

The project will consist of the following:

  • A central utility power plant consisting of equally sized generators capable of parallel operation
  • Adequate 21-day underground fuel storage
  • A new utility building for the generators and switchgear
  • Compound-wide electrical distribution system
  • Compound-wide site electrical infrastructure
  • Waste heat utilization program
  • Compound-wide fire main replacement and fire water distribution upgrade
  • Compound-wide domestic water system upgrade
  • Compound-wide sanitary sewer system upgrade
  • Compound-wide storm water system upgrade
  • Compound-wide telecommunications system upgrade (telephone, data, CATV)
  • New communication central office building
  • Interface with communication tower (installed by others)

The Embassy compound is approximately 104 acres, located in the International Zone of Baghdad, Iraq.  The entire compound will be affected by this project.

SAQMMA-12-R0288:  Baghdad, Iraq, Major Rehabilitation Project

Estimated Price Tag: $20 – 35 million. 

Estimated performance period:  11 months

The Major Rehab project will consist of the renovation of an existing annex building and installation of independent support systems.  The Major Rehab will include interior partitions, electrical/telecommunication systems upgrades, extensive mechanical and plumbing systems, fire/life safety installations, commissioning and certification.

The Embassy compound is located in the International Zone of Baghdad, Iraq. The annex building is a three story structure with a fourth level penthouse.  The area to be renovated includes approximately 334 net square meters and has been laid out to accommodate a Data Hall and Office Area on a 450mm high raised access flooring system

Of course, we just dedicated that US Embassy in Baghdad, remember? So three years after it was officially launched and marked its claim to fame, we already need a rehab and an upgrade?  In a place where we’re supposed to be “rightsizing” our footprint? Is there no end to this?  Yes, yes, it is still much cheaper than when troops were in that country. But that’s like splurging just because there is a fire sale!

This is, of course, the same embassy with so little influence within the Iraqi Government.  Just recently, it took a two-week bureaucratic debate before the GoI released the body of Michael David Copeland because the Iraqis insist on performing an autopsy on his remains. Man, if we can’t even get the Iraqis to compromise on the release of our dead, how can we get them to compromise on something for the living?

The AP reported that Copeland, of Colbert, Okla., moved to Iraq within the last month to take a job on an aviation project with DynCorp International under a State Department contract. His body was found in his bed on June 9, family members said. No foul play was suspected.  Copeland, a former Marine showed no obvious signs of trauma or illness but under Iraqi laws, as in other countries, local authorities must issue a death certificate before releasing a body to survivors outside the country, according to the AP.

It turns out that our largest and most expensive embassy in the world does not have a medical examiner on staff to do autopsies.

That said, must also point out that the US Embassy Barbados does not have a medical examiner on staff either but was able to convinced the host country to released the body of George Gaines shortly after his demise for an autopsy back in the United States.

Imagine if the US Embassy in Baghdad is a “normal” embassy, it would have taken months to get the body of Mr. Copeland released!  Thankfully, we have a large, effective mission at the forefront of our people to people diplomacy in the Middle East, it only took two weeks to secure a dead body.

Domani Spero

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New Consulate General Compound Opens in Surabaya, Indonesia

Via US Embassy Jakarta/Flickr

U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia, Scot Marciel dedicated the new Consulate General facility in Surabaya on May 4, “celebrating our deepening commitment to the comprehensive partnership between the United States and Indonesia.” Governor of East Java, Dr. H. Soekarwo; Acting Director General of America and Europe Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. M.Wahid Supriyadi; Consul General, Kristen Bauer; and Director of the Office of Design and Engineering of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), William Miner participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Click here if unable to view the embedded slideshow.

Here is the part of the presser from the embassy:

Occupying a six-acre site in the Citra Raya development, the new facility serves as an important platform for U.S. diplomacy in Indonesia and throughout the region and creates a secure, state-of-the-art, environmentally-sustainable workplace for approximately 200 employees.

The Consulate General provides improved facilities to serve both U.S. and Indonesian citizens, such as a more comfortable consular area for visa services and American citizen services and an Information Resources Center where information and programs on the United States will be available.

The compound incorporates numerous sustainable features, most notably a storm water management system designed to capture downpours and slowly discharge the water to the city so that flooding is minimized; the use of drip irrigation and recycled wastewater; and a wastewater treatment plant.

Aurora, LLC of Rockville, MD constructed the new Consulate General and Sorg Architects of Washington, D.C. is the architect of record.  The $64 million project generated hundreds of jobs in both the United States and Indonesia.

Domani Spero

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US Embassy Romania: New Embassy Dedication Ceremony

Via US Embassy Romania:

On March 22, 2012, U.S. Ambassador Mark H. Gitenstein officially dedicated the new Embassy in Bucharest, Romania. The ceremony included a ribbon-cutting and the unveiling of a plaque that has been placed on the main entrance to the Embassy. The keynote speaker for the event was Delaware Attorney General Joseph R. “Beau” Biden, III. Also speaking were Romanian Prime Minister Mihai Ungureanu, Senate President Vasile Blaga and the Managing Director of Operations for the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Leo Hession. Young Romanian pianist Mihai Ritivoiu performed as well (Lucian Crusoveanu / Public Diplomacy Office)

Links inserted above.

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Proof of Special US-PAK Relations: Pakistan to consider change in building laws just for the United States

…to restrict the US Embassy in Islamabad from building what is reportedly a new seven-storey embassy.

Apparently, the seven-storey, excuse me nine-storey , oh, never mind — insert number of storey-building here is just too high, or too suspicious, or both and my, why do you need such a tall building to put in way too many people to oversee way too much aid money there?  Around the interwebs, concerns include fears that there will be spies eating potato chips at such a high perch, giving them something like a “whole of government” view of Islamabad.  If built according to plans, would the seven-storey US Embassy get the moniker as the tallest building in Islamabad? In which case, the surveillance aircraft the USG gave to Pakistan could be put to good use.

We have posted about the NEC construction in Pakistan previously, the following from the publicly available fedbiz:

Islamabad, Pakistan NEC:

The project will consist of the design and construction of a New Embassy Office (NOB), new office annex building (NOX), Marine Security Guard Quarters (MSGQ), general services offices and warehouse, central utility plan, site utilities and infrastructure, compound access facilities, and demolition of existing buildings on the US Embassy Compound in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Approximate Site: 168,000 square meters
New buildings area: 79,000 square meters
Estimated design-build cost: $530 – $630 million

Islamabad, Pakistan Housing:

The project will consist of the design and construction of a permanent staff housing buildings, recreation and support structures, central utility plan, site utilities and infrastructure, and compound access facilities on newly acquired property for the US Embassy Compound in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Approximate Site: 48,600 square meters
New buildings area: 75,000 gross square meters
Estimated design-build cost: $140 – $200 million

After the plan had been reportedly approved by the  Capital Development Authority, the chairman of the same agency is quoted in a local newspaper saying,  “As the construction of the new complex of US embassy is in its initial stage – its first storey is being constructed – the US authorities can be asked to follow our new guidelines.”

We do feel sorry for the contractor who will need a daily dose of migraine meds from this day onward…. because something else will surely come up. Walls too tall? Projected perimeter lights too bright … what else need new guidelines?

Wrecking ball at work during the demolition of...

Wrecking ball at work during the demolition of a old milling building in Dresden, Plauen district. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The report also quotes the US Embassy Spokesman, “The embassy is proceeding according to the approved building plan and has not received any notice that CDA is changing the plan.”

We have a bad feeling about this. What if the notice or whatever is sent via snail mail, and is taking the circuitous route from Islamabad to Washington via the Mariana Trench (oh, hello James Cameroon!) and six times back and around, they may need a wrecking ball for the top three floors of the building, by the time this is over ….

On the other hand –

… if the Government of Pakistan kept changing its building laws, perhaps somebody will put a light brake on this project, something that was utterly missing when we built the US Embassy in Baghdad.  After all, if the US Embassy in Baghdad ever transitions to what you and I would consider a “normal” embassy, what are they going to do with all that building space? (Al Kamen’s contest winners suggested turning it into something called the Fertile Crescent Community College or into “America’s Last Resort” with full spa experience). Perhaps we should be asking the same question in the case of the new US Embassy in Islamabad? When all the aid money is disbursed and when US military operation in Afghanistan winds down in 2014, what are they going to do with all that space?

Domani Spero

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