New U.S. Embassy Beirut to Open in Lebanon in 2022

Posted: 1:38 am ET
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On April 20, 2017, the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard broke ground on the new U.S. Embassy compound in Beirut, Lebanon.

The multi-building compound will be located in the suburb of Awkar on a 43-acre site. The compound will provide a safe, secure, sustainable, and modern platform that supports U.S. Embassy staff in representing the U.S. Government to Lebanon and in conducting day-to-day diplomacy.

Professionals from the United States, Lebanon, and other countries will work side-by-side to complete this new diplomatic facility. Morphosis Architects of Culver City, California, is the architect for the project. B.L. Harbert International of Birmingham, Alabama is the construction contractor.

The construction contract was awarded in December 2016, and completion of the project is anticipated in 2022.

The multi-building complex project with a total budget of $1,026,043,688 will be constructed on a 43.87-acre site in the Awkar suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, located approximately 9 miles northwest of downtown Beirut and in close proximity to the existing Embassy Compound.

The project will reportedly include a Chancery; Marine security guard residence; support annex and buildings; representational, staff and temporary housing; facilities for the community; and parking.  Extending from the Chancery, ribbon-like residential buildings are designed to frame the campus’ central service and circulation corridor.

According to State/OBO, this compound is OBO’s first project designed to earn LEED for Neighborhood Development certification.  The design will reportedly achieve significant water use reduction both inside and outside the Chancery with over 75% of wastewater to be reused on-site for irrigation to reduce the utility costs, stress on the local infrastructure, and to improve overall resiliency of the site.

An estimated workforce of 2,000 American, Lebanese, and third-country workers are expected to be involved in the construction of the new Embassy.

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United States Dedicates the New U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway

We have been a reader-supported blog since 2014. We want to keep this blog as open as possible and that’s the reason we don’t have a subscription fee. You know best whether our work is of value to you or not. If it is, and if your circumstances allow it, we could use your help to carry on for another year: Help Diplopundit Get to Year 10 ⚡️
Posted: 12:10 am ET
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On Thursday, June 15, 2017, the new U.S. Embassy in Oslo was officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony. Chargé d’affaires Jim DeHart served as Master of Ceremonies and welcomed the guests. Speakers included Governing Mayor of Oslo Raymond Johansen, Foreign Minister Børge Brende and Overseas Building Operations (OBO) Director Ambassador William Moser.

Via State/OBO:

The new, multi-building complex is located on a 10-acre site in the Huseby neighborhood. The new facility provides a safe, secure, and modern facility for U.S. diplomacy and incorporates numerous sustainable features targeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Gold Certification by the Green Building Certification Institute.

EYP Architecture & Engineering of Washington DC is the architect and Walsh Construction of Chicago, Illinois constructed the new facility.

Since 1999, as part of the Department’s Capital Security Construction Program, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) has completed 133 new diplomatic facilities, with an additional 52 projects now in design or under construction.

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In May 2012, Ambassador Barry White broke ground on the new Embassy in Oslo. The Mayor of Oslo, the Honorable Fabian Stang; Director of Oslo Planning and Building Authority, Ellen de Vibe; Secretary His Majesty The King’s Cabinet, Knut Brakstad; as well as Deputy Chief of Protocol Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oystein Braathen, attended the groundbreaking ceremony, according to the State Department.

The New Embassy Compound in Oslo is a multi-building complex which includes a chancery, an underground support annex, three entry pavilions, and Marine security guard quarters. The new facility will reportedly provide approximately 200 embassy employees with “a state-of-the-art workspace.”

The new facility will incorporate numerous sustainable features, including a restored stream that will become a key landscape feature and contribute to storm water management. Other sustainable features are a green roof on one building, use of natural daylight for energy savings, and a ground-source heat exchange system that will allow the Embassy to meet nearly 100 percent of its heating load. The new Embassy site is also located within 300 meters of public transportation and includes more than 45 bicycle parking spaces. The facility is targeting Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Silver Certification by the Green Building Certification Institute.

The $228 million project was constructed by Walsh Global, LLC of Chicago, Illinois and the architect of record is EYP Architecture & Engineering. When this project was announced, it was scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2015.

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@StateDept Contractor to Pay $1.65 Million to Resolve Criminal and Civil Fraud Allegations

Posted: 3:09 am EDT
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In May 2015, Tony Chandler, 68, of Severn, Maryland, and Marvin Hulsey, 52, of Stafford, Virginia, were indicted by a federal grand jury  on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud.

According to the indictment, Chandler was employed by the U.S. Department of State with duties as a contracting officer’s representative in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations.  In that capacity, Chandler was responsible for oversight of the contractor that employed Hulsey as a program manager. Apart from his government employment, Chandler was an authorized distributor of nutritional supplements for a multi-level marketing company.  From 2008 and continuing into 2010, Chandler earned a commission of sales for nutritional supplements that were sold to employees under Hulsey’s supervision.  The employees were reimbursed by Hulsey’s employer for the cost of the nutritional supplements, after which Hulsey, through agreement with Chandler, caused fake invoices to be created and submitted to the U.S. Department of State.  Knowing that the cost of nutritional supplements was not an allowable cost, Chandler approved many of the fake invoices in his official capacity, causing the U.S. Department of State to make fraudulent payments back to Hulsey’s employer. Chandler earned a commission from the multi-level marketing company for each sale of nutritional supplements.

On March 21, 2016, USDOJ announced the following:

Coastal International Security, Inc., based in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, agreed to pay a total of $1.65 million to resolve criminal and civil allegations that the company defrauded the State Department during performance of a security contract and later concealed the fraud from contracting officials, and civil allegations that the company improperly obtained and used competitors’ pricing information to underbid competitors on government task orders.

The government’s investigation focused on the relationship between Marvin Hulsey, a former program manager for Coastal International Security, and Tony Chandler, a former contracting official of the State Department. According to court documents, Hulsey and Chandler conspired together to submit false invoices to the State Department for unallowable costs of nutritional supplements. Chandler, as an authorized distributor of the nutritional supplements, received commissions from the approximate $170,000 in fraudulent nutritional supplement billings. Independent of this scheme, Hulsey admitted to causing approximately $140,000 in additional fraudulent billings through a company owned by his wife.

The government discovered during its investigation that Curtis Wrenn, in his capacity as president of Coastal International Security, learned of Hulsey’s and Chandler’s nutritional supplement scheme.  Wrenn knew that he had a responsibility under the Federal Acquisition Regulation to timely disclose to the government credible evidence of fraud, but instead intentionally omitted facts related to the fraud from a letter delivered to the State Department.

Chandler and Wrenn both pleaded guilty on June 12, 2015, and were both sentenced on Sept. 18, 2015. Chandler was sentenced to six months in prison, while Wrenn was sentenced to one year of probation for the false statement to the State Department.  Hulsey pleaded guilty on July 24, 2015, and was sentenced on Oct. 30, 2015, to one year and one day in prison and two years of supervised release.

Under the terms of the agreement entered into between Coastal International Security and the United States to resolve the criminal allegations, the United States agreed not to bring criminal charges against the company related to the conduct that is the subject of the agreement in part because of the significant changes to the company’s ethics and compliance program.  Coastal International Security has agreed to accept responsibility for the conduct of its former employees, continue its cooperation with federal investigators, pay a monetary penalty of $150,000 and maintain an effective ethics and compliance program, with particular attention to employee training, federal reporting requirements for suspected fraud, and whistleblower protection.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office may seek to prosecute Coastal International Security for the admitted conduct of its employees, or to assess a further penalty of up to $500,000 if during the two year term of the criminal agreement, an executive management official commits federal crimes as outlined in the agreement, and the company fails to report the misconduct to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Coastal International Security simultaneously agreed to pay $1.5 million to resolve civil claims under the False Claims Act for the above conduct, as well as claims under the Procurement Integrity Act arising out of Coastal International Security’s knowledge and use of a competitor’s publicly unavailable bid proposal information.  The competitor’s information allegedly enabled Coastal International Security to underbid the competition on bids that Coastal International Security made between Nov. 4, 2008, and Oct. 7, 2011, in connection with various Department of State task orders.

The civil claims settled by Coastal International Security and the United States are allegations only. There has been no determination of civil liability.  The resolutions obtained were the result of parallel investigations by the criminal and civil divisions of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Steve A. Linick, Inspector General for the U.S. Department of State and Broadcasting Board of Governors; and Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after the agreements were released.  Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian D. Harrison and Assistant U.S. Attorney Grace L. Hill prosecuted the criminal case.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Gerard Mene handled the civil case.

This case was investigated by the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General (DOS-OIG) and the FBI’s Washington Field Office. Substantial assistance was provided by the Criminal Analysis Branch of the DOS-OIG.

The case is Case No. 1:15-cr-137 and 1:15-cr-150.

 

Related items:

 

OIG Compliance Review: Minimum Security Standards For Overseas Facilities Remain a Hard Nut to Crack

Posted: 2:00 pm EDT
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Three ARB-related IG reports were issued this past week, two of them, the Audit of the DOS Implementation of the Vital Presence Validation Process and the Review of the Implementation of the Benghazi Accountability Review Board Recommendation have been designated as Classified. The third one, the Compliance Followup Review of the 2013 Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process is available in full online.

On September 25, 2013, State/OIG released its Special Review of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) Process. That report contains 20 formal and 8 informal recommendations. For the status of the 20 formal recommendations, see Appendix B of the report.  For the status of the informal recommendations, see Appendix C of the report. The OIG notes that the action taken by State at some Benghazi ARB recommendations “did not appear to align with the intent of the recommendations and some Benghazi ARB recommendations did not appear to address the underlying security issues adequately.”

Thirteen of the formal recommendations and five of the informal recommendations are related to the ARB process. The remaining seven formal and three informal recommendations mirror or are closely related to the Benghazi ARB recommendations. As stated in the ARB process review report, the ARB process team’s rationale for issuing these recommendations was that the action taken to date on some of the Benghazi ARB recommendations did not appear to align with the intent of the recommendations and some Benghazi ARB recommendations did not appear to address the underlying security issues adequately. The classified annex to the report provides an assessment of the Department’s implementation of the recommendations of the Benghazi ARB as of the date of the review. Its focus is on the implementation of the 64 tasks S/ES issued in response to the Benghazi ARB recommendations. It contains no OIG recommendations.

In the Compliance Followup Review or CFR dated August 2015, State/OIG reissued one recommendation from the 2013 inspection report, that the Under Secretary of State for Management, in coordination with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, develop minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupying facilities located in designated high-risk, high-threat locations and include these minimum standards for occupancy in the Foreign Affairs Handbook as appropriate. The report also include a little nugget about DOD cooperation with investigative reports of security-related incidents that involve State Department personnel, specifically mentioning “the incident in Zabul Province, Afghanistan.” That’s the incident where FSO Anne Smedinghoff and four others were killed in Zabul, Afghanistan in April 2013.

Outstanding Recommendation on Minimum Security Standards 

Recommendation 17 of the ARB process review report recommended that the Department develop minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupying facilities in HRHT locations. The Department rejected this recommendation, stating that existing Overseas Security Policy Board standards apply to all posts and that separate security standards for HRHT posts would not provide better or more secure operating environments. Furthermore, recognizing that Overseas Security Policy Board standards cannot be met at all locations, the Department has a high threshold for exceptions to these standards and the waiver and exceptions process requires “tailored mitigation strategies in order to achieve the intent of the standards.”5

Although OIG acknowledges the Department’s assertion of a “high threshold for exceptions,” the Department’s response does not meet the recommendation’s requirement for standards that must be met prior to occupancy. As was noted in the ARB process review report, “…occupying temporary facilities that require waivers and exceptions to security standards is dangerous, especially considering that the Department occupies these facilities long before permanent security improvements are completed.”6 As the Department has not identified minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupancy, Recommendation 17 is being reissued.

Recommendation CFR 1: The Office of the Under Secretary of State for Management, in coordination with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, should develop minimum security standards that must be met prior to occupying facilities located in Department of State-designated high-risk, high-threat environments and include new minimum security standards of occupancy in the Foreign Affairs Handbook as appropriate. (Action: M, in coordination with DS and OBO)

So, basically back to where it was before Benghazi, when there were no minimum security standards prior to occupying temporary facilities.

How high is this “high threshold of exceptions” that’s being asserted?

Risk management process now called “tailored mitigation strategies” — resulting in waivers of Inman standards?

So waivers will continue to be executed?

And temporary facilities will continue to be occupied?

Key Findings:

  • The Department of State has complied with all the formal and informal recommendations of the 2013 Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process, except one, which has been reissued in this report.
  • The Department of State has implemented regulatory and procedural changes to delineate clearly who is responsible for implementation, and oversight of implementation, of Accountability Review Board recommendations. The Under Secretary for Management, in coordination with the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, is responsible for implementation of Accountability Review Board recommendations. The Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources is responsible for overseeing the Department’s progress in Accountability Review Board implementation, which places accountability for implementation at an appropriately high level in the Department of State.
  • The Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation manages the Accountability Review Board function. The Accountability Review Board process review report was critical of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation’s recordkeeping and files of past Accountability Review Boards. The Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation has since revised its Accountability Review Board recordkeeping guidelines. These revised guidelines have yet to be tested, as no Accountability Review Board has met since the Benghazi Accountability Review Board, which issued its report in December 2012.

More details excerpted from the IG report

Flow of Information

Formal Recommendations 1, 2, 3, and 9—as well as Informal Recommendations 1 and 3—concern the flow of information within the Department and from the Department to Congress. The recommendations introduce additional reporting requirements for all incidents that might meet the criteria to convene an ARB, as well as a more clearly defined list of congressional recipients for the Secretary’s Report to Congress. Recommendation 9 tasks S/ES with creating a baseline list of congressional recipients for the Secretary’s report to Congress. That list is now more clearly specified and included in regulations governing the ARB process.

Informal Recommendation 3 requires broader circulation of ARB reports as well as the Secretary’s report to Congress. The M/PRI position is that these reports belong to the Secretary and their dissemination should be at the Secretary’s discretion. OIG continues to believe that the Secretary should exercise discretion and circulate ARB reports and subsequent reports to Congress more widely within the Department.

ARB Recordkeeping

In December 2014, M/PRI revised its ARB recordkeeping guidelines regarding those records to be retained and safeguarded. However, because no ARB has convened since Benghazi, these revised guidelines remain untested. Although these guidelines require recording and transcribing telephone interviews, they do not mandate verbatim transcripts of all interviews, including in-person meetings, as the Inspector General suggested in his May 29, 2014, memorandum to the D/MR.

Action Memo for the Secretary

In compliance with Recommendation 1, the OIG CFR team found that M/PRI now drafts an action memo for the Secretary after every Permanent Coordinating Committee (PCC) meeting detailing the PCC decision, even if the PCC does not recommend convening an ARB.

In response to Recommendation 4, the Under Secretary for Management amended 12 FAM 030 to require vetting and reporting security-related incidents, which do not result in convening a PCC. Those cases will be communicated to the Secretary.

Alternative Review

To meet the intent of Recommendation 2, M/PRI has included in its instructions to the PCC chair a reminder to PCC members that if the PCC votes not to convene an ARB, the PCC should decide whether to recommend that the Secretary request an alternative review.

Terminology

Recommendation 5 recommends establishing written criteria to define the key terms “serious injury,” “significant destruction of property,” and “at or related to a U.S. mission abroad.” The 2013 OIG inspection team found that ambiguity in the terminology had led to their inconsistent application as criteria in decisions to convene ARBs.

ARB Implementation

Recommendations 10 and 11 recommend institutionalizing the oversight of the implementation of ARB recommendations as a responsibility of D/MR. M/PRI’s revision of 12 FAM 030 and addition of 12 Foreign Affairs Handbook (FAH)-12 now clearly delineate who is responsible for managing the ARB process and who is responsible for oversight of implementation of ARB recommendations. The Deputy Secretary’s responsibility for overseeing implementation of ARB recommendations places accountability for implementation at an appropriately high level in the Department.

Personnel Performance 

Recommendation 19 tasks M/PRI, in coordination with the Bureau of Human Resources and the Office of the Legal Adviser, to prepare clear guidelines for ARBs on recommendations dealing with issues of poor personnel performance. M/PRI has revised its standing guidance to ARB members, referring them to the Department’s new leadership principles in 3 FAM 1214, 4138, and 4532 when documenting instances of unsatisfactory performance or poor leadership. The Department further codified this ARB authority by expanding the list of grounds for taking disciplinary or separation action against an employee, including “conduct by a senior official that demonstrates unsatisfactory leadership in relation to a security incident under review by an [ARB] convened pursuant to 22 U.S.C. 4831.” In addition, in January 2013 the Department began seeking an amendment to the ARB statute (22 U.S.C. 4834(c)) to provide explicitly that unsatisfactory leadership may be a basis for disciplinary action and that the ARB would have the appropriate authority to recommend such action. No change to the statute has yet been made.

Strengthening Security at High-Risk, High-Threat Posts

New courses:  Guided by a panel of senior DS special agents and outside organizations, DS updated its former High Threat Tactical Course to create a suite of mandatory courses for DS agents assigned to HRHT locations, drawing on lessons learned from the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, and Herat, Afghanistan. The cornerstone of these courses is the “High Threat Operations Course” (HT-310), which, as of October 1, 2013, was made mandatory for all DS agents at grades FS 04 through 06 who are assigned to HRHT locations. Similar, but shorter duration courses (HT-310E and HT-315) are required for senior and mid-level DS agents assigned to such locations.

Marine Detachments

The Department, in coordination with DOD, has added 20 new MSG detachments, and Marine Corps Headquarters has created the Marine Security Augmentation Unit. Although some HRHT posts still lack MSG detachments, for example, because of the lack of host government approval, the Department has made progress in deploying new detachments and increasing the size of existing detachments.[…] The June 2013 revision of the memorandum of agreement also includes a revision of the MSG mission. In the previous version, the MSG’s primary mission was to prevent the compromise of classified information. Their secondary mission was the protection of personnel and facilities. In the revised memorandum of agreement, the mission of the MSG is to protect mission personnel and prevent the compromise of national security information.

DS Agents Embed With DOD Forces

An additional area of security improvement beyond reliance on the host government has been the Department’s closer relationship with DOD, whose personnel have been involved in every Department contingency operation at an HRHT post since the Benghazi attack. Furthermore, DS agents are now embedded in DOD expeditionary forces.

About That Zabul Incident

Recommendation 6 recommends that the Department seek greater assurances from the Department of Defense (DOD) in providing investigative reports of security-related incidents that involve Department personnel. The Department makes its requests via Executive Secretary memorandum to the equivalent DOD addressee, in accordance with 5 FAH-1 H-120. The DOD counterpart has been responsive in delivering requested materials in all the recent instances, including the incident in Zabul Province, Afghanistan. M/PRI will continue to monitor DOD responses to requests for reports in the future.

That means, the State Department now has the Army investigation report into the death of FSO Anne Smedinghoff and four others in Zabul, Afghanistan in April 2013.  See Zabul Attack: Spox Says State Dept Did Its Own Review, It’s Classified, and There’s Now a Checklist! Zabul Attack: Walking But Not Lost, More Details But Not Official; Plus Update on Kelly HuntArmy Report: Poor planning led to FSO Anne Smedinghoff and troops’ death in Afghanistan.

The Chicago Tribune FOIA’ed that Army report but did not make the document public. The State Department internal report of the incident as far as we are aware, remains Classified. Then State Department spox, Jennifer Psaki referred to “multiple investigations” in April 2014;  none publicly released.

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Related item:

ISP-C-15-33 | Compliance Followup Review of the Special Review of the Accountability Review Board Process | August 2015

 

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

— Domani Spero
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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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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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US Embassy Ukraine Gets High Marks and Yay! State/OIG Now Discloses Names of Inspectors

— By Domani Spero

Back in September, we blog-hoped that the arrival of the new Senate-confirmed Inspector General at the State Department would also bring some changes on how the office does its business.  One of the items in our wish list has to do with the redaction of the inspectors’ names from the publicly available reports.

We are pleased to note that the first embassy inspection report released publicly since new OIG Steve Linick took office no longer redacts the names of the inspectors.  State/OIG spokesman Douglas Welty confirmed that this is, in fact, a decision made by Mr. Linick.

So to State/OIG leaning on the side of disclosure —

bravissimo!

If you want to know why we have been bugging about this subject forever, read our post here.  Now about the OIG report on US Embassy Ukraine:

Brief background: The US Embassy in Kyiv is the largest embassy in eastern Europe, after Moscow. It has 672 employees, including 165 U.S. direct hires, representing nine U.S. Government agencies. In 2012, all elements of the mission, with the exception of Peace Corps and the Office of Defense Cooperation, moved into a new embassy compound. The mission operating budget in FY 2012 was $160.6 million.

According to the IG report, this inspection took place in Washington, DC, between March 25 and April 12, 2013, and in Kyiv, Ukraine, between April 13 and May 7, 2013. Here are the names of the inspectors:  Ambassador Robert M. Beecroft (team leader), Lavon Sajona (deputy team leader), Richard Behrend, David Davison, Dolores Hylander, Patricia Murphy, Shawn O’Reilly, Donna Roginski, Paul Smith, Alexandra Vega, and Tim Wildy.

Screen Shot 2013-10-26

At the time of the inspection, the embassy was headed by Ambassador John Tefft and DCM Eric Schultz. Ambassador Tefft had since left and was succeeded by Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt who was confirmed the new ambassador to the Ukraine in June this year.

The following are the report’s key judgments:

  • Embassy Kyiv has been processing Ukrainian diversity visas since March 2012. Indications of widespread fraud have emerged. The program requires urgent attention and corrective action from Washington.(see separate post)
  • The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations and Embassy Kyiv are considering reconverting the former Marine House into a new residence for the deputy chief of mission. The project will cost approximately $2.5 million, not counting the cost of reconversion of the current deputy chief of mission residence to separate quarters for several other families. A cost-benefit analysis is urgently needed to determine whether the former Marine House should be converted into multiple apartment units instead, a move that could yield cost savings of $200,000 to $300,000 annually.
  • Eighty percent of Embassy Kyiv’s grant recipients live outside the capital, making oversight difficult. A travel cap imposed by the Department of State in December 2012 does not include grants monitoring in the list of mission-essential travel. The guidelines defining travel to monitor grantee performance should be redefined as mission essential, and thus exempt from the travel cap.
  • The OIG team identified two innovative practices. First, Embassy Kyiv sponsored a contest among university students to promote intellectual property protection. Second, Embassy Kyiv management officers realized that newly-hired local staff members receive an orientation briefing but no further briefings as their careers progress. To address this gap, Embassy Kyiv conducts a regular weekly program designed to inform locally employed staff about policy changes

From the looks of it, the embassy appears well-functioning (with one program exception).  The inspectors have good things to say about Ambassador Tefft and his deputy, as well as the entire mission:

  • Under the leadership of a widely admired Ambassador, Embassy Kyiv has benefited from 4 years of clear policy objectives, effective diplomacy, active public outreach, and skilled management. The country team operates with transparency, confidence, and mutual respect. The recent move into a new embassy compound has reinforced teamwork and operational coordination.
  • The Ambassador is vigorous and articulate in his advocacy of U.S. policies and defense of U.S. interests. Embassy operations run smoothly, with a high level of policy and operational unity. The inspectors noted high morale across all agencies and sections. The deputy chief of mission’s (DCM) businesslike, no-nonsense approach effectively complements the Ambassador’s more informal style.
  • Morale among the American staff in Kyiv is good. The new embassy, and the colocation of personnel from six buildings around the city, enhances camaraderie. The post language program, the embassy employee association, schools, and the embassy dining area and snack bar scored high on the OIG quality of life questionnaires. The medical unit and the community liaison office received average scores.
Potential changes to come:

Local Staff Overtime: Excessive

The LE staff worked more than 23,000 hours of overtime between April 2012 and March 2013. ICASS overtime alone accounted for over 15,000 hours, or $162,000. The inspectors consider this amount excessive.

Tour of Duty: Moving Kyiv to a 3-year tour?

Department employees serving in Kyiv are assigned for a 2-year tour. Embassy Kyiv is a 20 percent hardship differential post. The Department and the embassy would be better served by 3-year assignments. Seven embassies with 20 percent hardship differential have 3-year tours, including Manila, New Delhi, Accra, Dakar, and Santo Domingo. The IG report points out that “cost savings would accrue to the Department if Embassy Kyiv moved to a 3-year tour.”  While it did not directly recommend recommend the move to a 3-year tour, it recommends that the embassy with DGHR and State/EUR “evaluate whether to assign Department of State employees to 3-year tours in Kyiv.”

American Spaces Network – the largest in the world is coming!

The Space represents a key public diplomacy platform in U.S. efforts to reach the more than 90 percent of Ukrainians who live outside the capital city. When PAS establishes its 30th American Space later this year in Zaporizhzhya, it will have the largest American Space network in the world.In FY 2012, PAS committed more than $286,000 to its Space operations. Its FY 2013 funding increased to nearly $500,000.

More nails and hammers!

There is a funded $3.4 million OBO project to convert the decommissioned old consular building into an American Center. There is also a $2.3 million OBO project to convert the former Marine House into a DCM residence. And there is the potential conversion of the current DCM residence into separate multiple apartment units for mission staffers. Construction has not started on the first two projects with estimated completion in  2014.

The report includes 19 recommendations, and  21 informal recommendations.  Ambassador Tefft,who had been appointed ambassador three times recently retired from the Foreign Service. In September this year, he  was awarded the 2012 Diplomacy in Human Rights Award for “For his sustained and effective leadership of the U.S. embassy in Kyiv in providing well-coordinated inter-agency support for the aspirations of the Ukrainian people to enjoy strengthened democratic institutions and practices, the fair administration of justice, and respect for the fundamental freedoms set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

We will have a separate post on the massive fraud on the “green card” lottery program in the Ukraine to follow.

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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 state.gov/obo

Photo from state.gov/obo

Via state.gov:

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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US Embassy Helsinki: Ambassador Bruce “Biceps” Oreck Launches Innovation Center

Remember in December when our man in Finland, Ambassador Bruce Oreck caused quite a stir when his holiday card made it to Al Kamen’s In The Loop column? This one:

oreck

Boulder’s Daily Camera could not resist with “Call it bicep diplomacy. Hopefully he doesn’t set off an arms race.”  Ahaha! And here he is without a shirt on featured on the cover of Kuukausiliite.

We must say that if we were approaching the big 60 and we have guns like that, we would pose without a shirt, too. And then you’d call that gun-boat diplomacy, no? But hey, so what?!

Last year Ambassador Oreck also wore a fashionable rhubarb summer hat but no one complained about that. Take a look, isn’t that cute?!

Ambassador Oreck and Ms. Cody Oreck visited the charming Kumpula School Garden on June 15. Host Janne Länsipuro (in the photo) styled a fashionable rhubarb summer hat for the Ambassador as it was a warm and sunny day!

Ambassador Oreck visited the charming Kumpula School Garden on June 15. Host Janne Länsipuro (in the photo) styled a fashionable rhubarb summer hat for the Ambassador as it was a warm and sunny day! (Photo via US Embassy Finland)

But we want to write this post because we actually are quite of fan of Ambassador Oreck’s approach to his job  in Finland.  Pardon me? Oh, yes … we know he is a political appointee, that’s not necessarily a red mark in our books. Why? We just happen to think that one is either a good steward of the U.S. mission overseas or not. So there’s no “but” here.

Anyway, you might not remember this but the US Embassy in Helsinki celebrated the 236th Independence Day with hard hats.  That’s because they were in the middle of a renovation project at post.  Instead of renting out a place somewhere for the 4th of July celebration, they (including the guests) just put on hard hats and carried on with the fun.

And remember the official residence in Embassy Port of Spain  which the OIG described as having “a feeling of neglect and disrepair, in part because the previous Ambassador viewed repair activities as intrusive?”  Well, it was the exact opposite in Finland.  In December last year, Ambassador Oreck’s wife  posted this on the embassy blog, which we thought was amiable and considerate:

Work continues apace here at the Embassy to restore the Residence and to open the Innovation Center.  Since we are passionate about both historic preservation AND high-performance building techniques, we have decided that it is better to live through the chaos ourselves so that the next Ambassador won’t have to deal with the disruption. We deeply appreciate the forbearance of our dear neighbors.  We do literally feel your pain!

Storybook_innovation_Center_2_blog

Embassy renovation project (photo via US Embassy Finland)

State/OIG also did an inspection of US Embassy Helsinki. The report says that there were concerns about the 9 months of noisy and dirty construction, and the lack of information about what comes next but the inspectors reported that “It is clear that employees do not question the need to renovate the dilapidated and unsafe facilities at Embassy Helsinki. Many also understand that without the Ambassador’s persistence, the project would not be underway (a judgment shared by OBO).” Also this:

An energetic, construction savvy, and persistent Ambassador has revived a stalled project to renovate the antiquated and unsafe chancery buildings; he is extremely involved in all details of the renovation and sees keeping the project on schedule as one of the greatest contributions he can make during his time in Finland. 

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) acknowledges that the embassy renovation project would not have been funded or advanced at an accelerated pace without the constant pressure of the Ambassador, both from Helsinki and during frequent trips to Washington.

Screen Shot 2013-04-25

In Helsinki, new high-security spaces–mostly without windows–had to be inserted into a complex setting of heritage buildings and neighborhood, on a prominently visible site looking out over the Gulf of Finland. Here too climate was significant, as well as the profound cultural context of modern architecture and design in Finland.The new wing is attached to a remodeled 1926 apartment house, the Annex, and had to fit into a tightly circumscribed footprint, as determined by security requirements–an exercise we called ‘form follows setback’. But we welcomed the fish-shaped plan that resulted, as a form complementary to the historic neighbors, a contrast that is accentuated by materiality. The curved walls are rendered in vertically textured warm white brick toward the street, and a spectrum of textured glass surfaces facing the waterfront, reflecting the often icy context of the Gulf, as well as Finland’s famed modern glass craft. (Via Moore Ruble Yudell)

Ambassador Oreck reportedly logged about 250,000 miles in dozens of trips between Washington, D.C., and Helsinki to personally address concerns about costs and security. “In 36 months, we went from ‘no’ to ‘done,’ ” he said.

Early this year, the embassy staff returned to the building and the Innovation Center was officially opened in late February. The Innovation Center houses the public offices of the U.S. Embassy in Finland and is reportedly one of the most energy efficient embassy buildings in the world.  According to the embassy, the Center also “harnesses the best of Finnish technology by being the first U.S. government building in the world to use district cooling and heating.”

Somebody once said that it’s what you do on your third and fourth tries that matters.  We’re glad that Ambassador Oreck did not give up when he was told ‘no’ the first time.
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