New London Embassy: Design Passed the Full Mockup Blast, So Why the “Augmentation Option” For $2 Million?

Posted: 2:58 am EDT
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Back in July last year, we wrote about the New London Embassy (NLE) project. Our trusted source told us that the project “went into construction before its glass facade design was tested to confirm it will meet blast standards.” Our source further 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 (see New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?).

On December 8, the House Oversight Committee held a hearing on the New London Embassy Project. Below is an excerpt from State/OIG Steve Linick’s prepared statement (PDF):

In July 2015, OIG published the findings of its performance audit of the London NEC construction project.1 During this audit, OIG reviewed the Department’s evaluation and approval of the project design, including the design of the outer façade of the Chancery building,2 which comprises two layers. The outermost layer consists of a scrim stretched over a network of thin aluminum components. The scrim wraps the building to the east, west, and south, acting as a screen. Underneath the scrim, a glass curtain wall with an aluminum frame forms the inner layer of the building’s envelope.

OIG’s first objective was to determine whether the Department resolved security issues with the curtain wall design before allowing construction to begin. The Department’s physical security standards require all new office buildings such as the Chancery at the London NEC to provide blast protection to keep people and property safe from an attack. Moreover, by law and Department policy, the Department must certify to Congress that the project design will meet security standards prior to initiating construction.

OIG found that the Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) and Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) did not obtain blast-testing results for the Chancery’s curtain wall design before the Department certified the project and authorized initiation of construction. As discussed in more detail below, initiating construction prior to security certification and blast testing increased the financial risk to the Department and taxpayers, and was contrary to the Department’s policy.

A second objective for OIG was to determine whether the Department adhered to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) requirements in negotiating a price for the NEC. OIG found that the contracting officer responsible for the NEC construction contract awarded the construction portion of the contract without requiring the contractor to provide an explanation of approximately $42 million in cost differences between the initial proposal and the final proposal. Because the contracting officer did not obtain sufficient information when negotiating the final price for the construction portion of the contract as required by the FAR, OBO was unable to assess fully the contents of the construction proposal that the contracting officer ultimately accepted and used as the basis for the firm-fixed-price award.

A practice that does not comply with 12 FAM 361.1

Since at least 2003, the Department has followed the practice of issuing limited notices to proceed, as set forth in the 2003 draft agreement, thereby authorizing construction contractors to begin limited tasks (not including foundation work) prior to certification. This practice, however, does not comply with 12 FAM 361.1, which states that “no contract should be awarded or construction undertaken until the proponent of a project has been notified by the Department that the appropriate certification action has been completed.” Notwithstanding the prohibition in 12 FAM 361.1, DS approved OBO’s request for early site work and construction of the piling foundation of the London NEC in November 2012, more than a year before certification and blast testing.

Concerns with the security of the curtain wall

The London NEC’s outer façade design was new and was never previously evaluated or tested by DS. The glass curtain wall design used in the NEC needed to meet a variety of security criteria, including forced-entry/ballistic resistant (FE/BR) and blast-protection requirements. As early as November 2012, DS notified OBO of its concerns with the curtain-wall design. DS informed OBO that there were substantial omissions and deficiencies of essential information related to FE/BR testing, curtain-wall sound mitigation, and blast-design methodology. This meant that DS would not accept computer modeling of the curtain wall to certify whether it would meet blast requirements and thus would require field validation as a condition to certify the project. CSE also expressed concerns with the security of the curtain wall and notified DS that its concerns would “need to be resolved by either a follow-on design or a written agreement” from OBO.

An “alternate curtain wall system” – just in case

Based on that written assurance and prior to any blast testing, the Under Secretary of State for Management certified to Congress on December 16, 2013, that the London NEC would be constructed in a secure manner and would provide adequate and appropriate security for sensitive activities and personnel. During this timeframe, OBO tasked the design firm for the NEC to develop solutions in the event the curtain wall failed the blast test. Specifically, OBO worked with the contractor to develop an “alternate curtain wall system” that was acceptable to DS for certification without blast testing.

An “augmentation option”— for an additional cost of $2 million

DS oversaw two series of component-level blast tests in February and April 2014. According to DS, the tests were necessary to determine the viability of employing structural silicone for the curtain wall. However, because the test results were mixed and inconclusive, OBO and DS agreed that the full mockup blast test would be the only valid test of the design. The full mockup blast test occurred on May 28, 2014, and according to DS, the design passed. Nevertheless, DS and OBO reached an agreement incorporating what became known as an “augmentation option”— for an additional cost of $2 million. Employing this option, although not necessary to meet standards, was intended to provide an added measure of security.

As noted in our audit, OIG recognizes that the Department’s decision to initiate construction of the London NEC prior to completing the required blast testing was driven by a schedule to complete construction by 2017. However, by initiating construction without first completing blast testing, the Department committed itself to the construction of a building that could have required significant redesign, potentially placing millions of dollars at risk.

 

The House Oversight Committee hearing page is here with the rest of the video clips and the prepared statements of the witnesses from OIG, OBO, and Diplomatic Security.

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Obama Names @StateDept Spox John Kirby as New Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs

Posted: 2:03 am EDT
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We heard this back in October (@StateDept’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs: Doug Frantz Out, John Kirby In). On December 10, the White House officially announced President Obama’s intent to nominate State Department spokesman John Kirby to be Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs. He will succeed Douglas Frantz (Kerry’s deputy staff director and chief investigator of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he was a senator) who was announced as Deputy Secretary-General of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in October. It looks like Admiral Kirby will be dual hatted as A/S and spokesperson.

Below is Kirby’s official bio via state.gov (we’re quite sure this position requires a Senate confirmation we’re told this position no longer requires Senate confirmation. Thanks @APDiploWriter):

John Kirby was appointed as the Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Public Affairs on December 11, 2015.  Prior to that he served as the the Spokesperson for the Department of State. Kirby previously served as Pentagon Press Secretary, serving for more than a year as the chief spokesman for the Department of Defense and for former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. He retired from the Navy in May 2015 with the rank of Rear Admiral.

Kirby was commissioned in September 1986 after completing Officer Candidate School at Newport, R.I. He qualified as a surface warfare officer aboard the guided-missile frigate USS Aubrey Fitch (FFG 34). As a public affairs officer, Kirby served at sea aboard the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal (CV 59) and on the staff of the Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet, embarked aboard the command and control ship USS Mount Whitney (LCC 20).

While ashore, Kirby completed tours as an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy; public affairs officer with the Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron (Blue Angels); editor-in-chief of the Navy’s Flagship monthly magazine, All Hands; the staffs of the Chief of Naval Personnel, U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Chief of Naval Operations, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Media Operations.

Kirby also served as the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Information (CHINFO), serving as the principal spokesman for the Department of the Navy and providing strategic communication counsel to the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations. As CHINFO, he led the Navy’s public affairs community consisting of more than 2,700 active and reserve officer, enlisted and civilian communication professionals.

John Kirby grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla., graduating from St. Petersburg Catholic High School in 1981. He is a 1985 graduate of the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla., where he received a Bachelor’s degree in History. He holds a Master of Science degree in International Relations from Troy State University and a Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College.

According to history.state.gov, the Department of State created the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Public and Cultural Relations during a general reorganization in Dec 1944, after Congress authorized an increase in the number of Assistant Secretaries in the Department from four to six (Dec 8, 1944; P.L. 78-472; 58 Stat. 798). The reorganization was the first to designate substantive designations for specific Assistant Secretary positions. The Department changed the title to Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs in 1946. American poet Archibald MacLeish served as the first Assistant Secretary from December 1944-August 1945.

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@StateDept’s Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs: Doug Frantz Out, John Kirby In

Don’t Worry, Be Happy — John Kirby Officially Takes Over as @StateDeptSpox

Tweet of the Day: Admiral John Kirby as Next Foggy Bottom Spokesman

Shuffling the Spoxes: Admiral Kirby Out, Psaki to White House, New Spoxes Race Is On!

 

US Embassy Turkey Cancels Public Services For Dec 14 and 15 Due to Security Threat

Posted: 1:56 am EDT
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Due to a possible security threat against the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, the Embassy will have limited consular services available on Monday, December 14 and Tuesday, December 15, 2015.  Public services, including visa appointments and non-emergency American Citizen Services appointments for December 14 and 15 are cancelled and will be rescheduled for a later date. Please note the Embassy’s operating status may be subject to change as the security situation evolves. The Embassy urges U.S. citizens to avoid the Embassy on those dates.  U.S. Consulate General Istanbul, U.S. Consulate Adana and Consular Agency Izmir will operate normally.

We strongly encourage U.S. citizens to maintain a high level of vigilance, be aware of local events, and take the appropriate steps to bolster your personal security.

The cancellation of services follows the previously announced security threat against the U.S. Embassy in Ankara on Sunday, December 13 where Embassy Ankara urged U.S. citizens to avoid the Embassy until the afternoon of Monday, December 14, 2015. ‎

Previously on December 5, Embassy Ankara also warned of a possible security threat against posts in Turkey.

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CSCC: Think Again. Or #StepAwayFromTheTweets Sez El Snarkistani (Updated)

Posted: 1:44 am EDT
Updated: Dec 16, 1:31 am EDT
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Update:

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