@StateDept’s OBO Announces 16 Firms For New Embassy Construction and Modernization Projects

Posted: 1:12 am ET

 

On December 6, the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations announced its final selection for the Worldwide Design Services IDIQ Contract:

The Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) selected 16 Architecture/Engineering (A/E) firms for its Worldwide Design Services Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract. The firms selected for the IDIQ provide comprehensive design services for both new construction and modernization projects at U.S. diplomatic facilities worldwide. The selected firms are:
  • Mark Cavagnero Associates
  • SHoP Architects
  • Diller Scofidio + Renfro
  • Krueck & Sexton Architects
  • Ennead Architects
  • Richard + Bauer Architecture
  • Morphosis Architects
  • Robert A.M. Stern Architects
  • Kieran Timberlake
  • Marlon Blackwell Architects
  • 1100 Architect
  • Allied Works Architecture
  • Ann Beha Architects
  • Studio Ma
  • The Miller Hull Partnership
  • Machado and Silvetti Associates
According to OBO, it received 136 total submissions for the design services IDIQ solicitation and 26 firms were shortlisted to provide technical team submissions and make presentations to OBO. “The final 16 selected firms presented the most highly qualified technical teams and demonstrated exemplary past performance, strong management and project delivery experience, a well-defined approach to public architecture, and a commitment to sustainability and integrated design.”
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Is State/OBO’s Intense Focus on Design Excellence Driving Engineering Employees Away?

Posted: 1:22 am EDT
Updated: April 16, 2015, 7:42 pm PDT
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Last week, there was a Burn Bag submission we posted on the many losses in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ engineering staff.  We’re republishing it below, as well as reblogging a post from The Skeptical Bureaucrat. Maybe this would help save the State Department leadership from having to say later on that no one made them aware of this issue.

We’re actually considering sending a love note to the 7th floor. Something like, “Hey, subscribe to Diplopundit. You may not always like what you read but we’ll tell you what do not always want to hear.” Or something like that.

On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t. They might decide to go back to just Internet Explorer and then all of our readers there won’t be able to read this blog ever again. In any case, here is that burn bag submission, repeated for emphasis:

Is the State Department leadership aware that there have been many losses of OBO [Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations] engineers in the last 18 months, leaving more than a 20% deficit (OBO words via email, not mine) in engineering staff, with more contemplating separation? Does it care?

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Below from The Skeptical Bureaucrat: Have Hard Hat, Will Travel (used with permission):

Diplopundit’s Burn Bag entry about OBO’s losses in engineering employees made me think back to the retirements and resignations I’ve noticed among my good friends in Overseas Buildings Operations over the last couple years. Yeah, I think there is indeed a pattern there.

A demoralization among OBO’s engineers would kind of make sense in the context of OBO’s overwhelming focus on Design Excellence, or, to use the new name for it, Just Plain Excellence. (The word “design” was dropped from the program’s name about one day after the disastrous House Oversight Committee hearing in which OBO’s Director and Deputy Director were severely criticized for favoring artsy & expensive embassy office buildings over functional & sensibly-priced ones.) In a Design Excellence organization, the architects are firmly in charge and the engineers will always play second fiddle.

According to the Burn Bag information, OBO has lost about 20 percent of its engineering staff. There is substantiation for that claim in the current USAJobs open announcement for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, which says OBO has “many vacancies” in that field:

Job Title: Foreign Service Construction Engineer
Department: Department Of State
Agency: Department of State
Agency Wide Job Announcement Number: CON-2015-0002

MANY vacancies – Washington DC,

A Foreign Service Construction Engineer (FSCE) is an engineer or architect, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations working specifically in the Office of Construction Management, responsible for managing Department of State construction projects overseas. The FSCE is a member of a U.S. Government team that ensures construction is professionally performed according to applicable plans, specifications, schedules, and standards. The FSCE must adhere to the highest standards of integrity, dependability, attention to detail, teamwork and cooperation while accepting the need to travel, to live overseas, and when necessary, to live away from family.

Those vacancies are for permanent, direct-hire, Foreign Service employees. In addition, there were also personal service contractor vacancies for OBO engineers announced on Monster.com five days ago. That one is looking for General Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, and Civil/Structural Engineers.

Why isn’t there also a need for Electrical Engineers? After all, you can’t spell Geek without two Es.

It looks like engineers are indeed exiting OBO in large numbers. Why that is, I can’t be sure. But I have to think it is not a good thing for my friends in OBO.

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Sources tell us that William Miner, the director of the OBO’s design and engineering office was one of those who left in the last 18 months and Patrick Collins, the chief architect retired in January this year. 

The USAjobs announcement cited by TSB does not indicate how many vacancies OBO plans to fill.  In addition to the open vacancies for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, USAJobs.gov also has one vacancy for a Supervisory Engineer (DEU) and one vacancy for Supervisory Architect (DEU).  The monster.com announcement linked to above includes full-time, non-permanent-temporary non-status jobs with initial 1 year appointment renewable for 4 years. All must be able to obtain and maintain a Top Secret security clearance. Oh, and relocation expenses will NOT be paid.

About OBO

 These are the jobs advertised via monster.com:

 

A  2013 HR stats indicate that OBO has 81 construction engineers including 10 who are members of the Senior Foreign Service (SFS).  Those numbers are, obviously, outdated now.   And we’re not sure what “more than 20% deficit” actually means in actual staffing numbers. But if we take a fifth from that HR stats, that’s about 16 engineers gone who must be replaced not just in the staffing chart but also in various construction projects overseas.

Even if OBO can ramp up its hiring the next 12 months, it will still have the challenge of bridging the experience gap. A kind of experience that you can’t reconstruct or replicate overnight unless OBO has an implantable chip issued together with badges for new engineers. Experience takes time, time that OBO does not have in great abundance. Experience that OBO also needs to rebuild every five years since in some of these cases, the new hires are on limited non-career appointments that do not exceed five years.

According to OBO, the State Department is entering an overseas construction program of unprecedented scale in the history of the bureau.  What might also be unprecedented is OBO engineers running out the door in droves.

Why is this happening? We can’t say for sure but …

  • We’ve heard allegations that an official has “run people out of the Department with his/her histrionic behaviors” and other unaddressed issues in the workplace that have generated complaints from staff but remained unresolved.
  • There are also allegations of “poor treatment” of OBO employees and families while in the Department or even when trying to separate.
  • One commenter to the Burn Bag post writes about problems within the Department of “an extreme lack of planning which will have caused our children to attend three schools in three countries just this year alone.”
  • Another commenter writes, “I know it’s TRUE, because I recently departed. Somewhere along the way OBO decided that Design Excellence meant more architecture and less engineering.”
Foggy Bottom, you’ve got a problem. People do not just quit their jobs and the security that goes with it for no reason. Somebody better be home to fix this before it gets much worse.
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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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Congress to State Dept: We Want All Your Stuff on New London Embassy Except Paperclips

— Domani Spero
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We recently blogged about the congressional hearing on the new embassy construction (see New Embassy Construction Hearing: Witnesses Not Invited, and What About the Blast-Proof Glass?).  Well, a couple of weeks ago, the  House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter to Secretary Kerry asking for documents and information on the new embassy construction.  Presumably in preparation for the hearing.  Almost half of the docs requested were related to the New London Embassy.  Did not look like the Committee got the docs that they wanted in time for the hearing.  In any case, below is a partial list; it looks like they wanted everything including drafts and all, except paperclips.

Giant paper clip at BI Commercial College near...

Giant paper clip at BI Commercial College near Oslo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We must say that the HOGR has not been short on its version of HPD … way too much emotion and drama that draws attention to themselves and the nearest camera for our taste.  Really, if they just do their jobs without too much theatrics, our institutions would be a lot better for it.  Having said that, it’s the only Congress we’ve got and they have an oversight role to play even if more than one in five Americans (22%) are ready to start over entirely after all members are fired.  For now, we’re stuck with these folks.  Luckily for us, not all of them will stay in Congress for life. So — please give these angry folks the documents they need even if they occasionally drive you nuts; they may not be there next year. They want a cost/benefit analysis, give it to them, too. We suspect the analysis would be useful anyways, and these folks would have to write their own scripts on what to say on teevee.

Oh hey, they want to know about the blast testing of the curtain wall, so do we!

 

20.   All Action Memoranda and Information Memoranda, including drafts, referring or relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

21.   All documents referring or relating to Value Engineering Studies relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including all versions of any Value Engineering Studies.

22.   All documents and communications relating to changes and notices to proceed relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all such communications with: a) KieranTimberlake Architects; b) B.L. Harbert International;  and, c) Weidlinger and Associates.

23.   All documents referring or relating to congressional Construction Security Certification for the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all communications with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

24.   All documents and communications referring or relating to Value Added Tax (VAT) relating to the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

25.   All documents and communications referring or relating to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, all such communications with: a) the Bureau of Diplomatic Security; b) KieranTimberlake Architects; c) B.L. Harbert International; d) Weidlinger and Associates.

26.   All documents and communications referring or relating to the application of General Services Administration (GSA) Performance Conditions to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, including, but not limited to, communications between OBO and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.

27.   All documents and communications relating to the engineering and legal justifications for applying standards other than those of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom.

28.   A document identifying all State Department overseas properties, the physical security of which were designed, tested or certified to GSA standards.

29.   All documents and communications relating to the decision to conduct blast testing of the curtain wall, and curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom, in both Ft. Polk, Louisiana and Socorro, New Mexico.

30.   The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center report relating to blast testing of the curtain wall or curtain wall components, of the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom which occurred in Fort Polk, Louisiana.

31.   All reports prepared for the Committees on Appropriations on the New Embassy Compound in London, United Kingdom which, pursuant to P.L. 112-74, Section 7004 (f)(2), were to be delivered every six months from 60 days after enactment, and which were to 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.

32.   The estimated cost per square meter to rent office space in the vicinity of the current U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom.

33.   All documents related to any lease-back of current U.S. Embassy in London, United Kingdom if the New Embassy Compound in London is not completed on schedule.

 

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

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

The accompanying Al Jazeera report says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But here’s the kicker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Diplomatic Security, we hope you have nordstromed yourselves!

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

New Embassy London

New Embassy London via Google Images

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

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

The New London Embassy cost approximately a billion dollars.

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

 

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