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New Zealand Asks US Embassy Wellington Staffer to Leave

Posted: 03:14 am ET

 

New Zealand news media reported over the weekend that a U.S. diplomat was involved in an incident in Lower Hutt, one of the four cities of the Wellington metro area.  It is not know what happened during the incident, only that the diplomat was reportedly “left with a broken nose and a black eye.” According to NZHerald,  the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) asked the US Embassy on Monday to waive the staffer’s diplomatic immunity so police could investigate the incident.  “The United States Government has today declined to waive the diplomat’s immunity,” the spokesman said. “Therefore, MFAT has asked the United States to withdraw the staff member in question from New Zealand.”  Some news reports have identified the diplomat but we have been unable to confirm the name or the status of the individual. US Embassy Wellington has not responded to our inquiry to-date.

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US Embassy New Zealand’s Chancery Rehab Project: Safety and Health Concerns With Ongoing Construction

Posted: 12:53 am ET

 

In November 2013, the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) announced the construction award, through “best value” determination of the major rehabilitation project of the chancery of the U.S. Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand.  This project, according to the announcement would include seismic strengthening, security improvements, and general building upgrades.

Below is a brief description of the project estimated to cost between $36-50 million:

SAQMMA-13-R0094, Wellington, New Zealand, Chancery Major Rehabilitation.

The 3,000 gross square meters Chancery building, originally constructed by the USG in 1977, sits on a 1.4 acre compound, located in the Thorndon section of Wellington, in close proximity to a number of other embassies and just north of the New Zealand government offices.  The compound is situated at the edge of a residential scale neighborhood of mostly two- to four-story buildings and is across the street from a neighborhood of much taller (up to approximately 16 stories), more densely sited commercial and mixed use buildings.

Anticipated renovation work includes:  retrofitting the exterior of the Chancery building façade to meet DOS standards for seismic and blast protection, systems upgrades throughout the building (electrical, telecommunication, mechanical, plumbing, fire and life-safety, and technical security), seismically bracing all building equipment and infrastructure, handicapped accessibility upgrade, constructing a 110 gsm addition to enlarge the work area, and space utilization improvements.  Site work includes: a physical security upgrade at the two vehicular entrances; new parking configuration; and new landscaped areas.

The project will require extensive use of swing space and construction phasing, as the Chancery office functions must be fully operational for the entirety of the project.

Via US Embassy Wellington, NZ

Photo by US Embassy Wellington, NZ

This week, we’ve received several concerns about the ongoing construction project:

Safety issues: “Work is going on while this building is still occupied by dozens of employees, creating a largely unsafe working environment. Repeated inquiries to Worksafe NZ have gone unanswered, despite the fact that there have been serious injuries on this project. At this point it’s just a matter of time until someone is killed on this site.  The building has been evacuated repeatedly due to fire alarms, and building-wide power outages are a routine occurrence.”

Structural concerns: “The building suffered damage from the Kaikoura earthquake in November, and staff were required to return to work before a structural assessment was completed.”

Health concerns:  “Employees in all sections are routinely subjected to excessively high levels of noise, dust and smoke. Dozens of employees have complained of respiratory and vision problems since the project began in 2014.” 

Communication issues:  “A dozen employees were recently evacuated to the British High Commission due to this project, and their workplaces were subsequently consumed by the work. After the High Commission’s closure these staff had to return to the Embassy, except now they effectively have no workspaces. There is no timeline for completion of the project, or for when the rest of the staff might expect any improvement in the work environment.”

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We’ve asked State/OBO about these concerns and allegations. We also wanted to know what the bureau has done to mitigate the disruption, and the health and security concerns regarding the ongoing construction. Below is the full response from the State/OBO spox:

In September 2013 the Department awarded a contract to rehabilitate the existing chancery in Wellington to meet seismic and security requirements, as well as address needed improvements to building systems.  The extensive construction work underway is required to retrofit and seismically strengthen the building.  The project was carefully planned in phases in order to maintain business operations of the embassy during the construction period and phasing plans and impacts were discussed and briefed to stakeholders prior to executing the project.  The project is scheduled for completion in early 2018.

Construction of an occupied building is always a difficult under taking and is inconvenient, but measures have been in place since the inception of the project to ensure the safety of both construction workers and embassy staff working in the building.  The project is being managed in accordance with the procedures and policies of the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) and the Department.

OBO is aware of complaints such as those raised and has reviewed the matter.  Though the project has encountered challenges — as is expected with a project of this complexity – the review confirmed that there is an appropriate safety program administered by the construction contractor and enforced by OBO project management, and that there have not been violations of required policies and procedures.

The original note sent to us says that “There is no timeline for completion of the project” but the OBO spox readily told us that project is scheduled for completion in early 2018. That indicates to us that there may be a hiccup in the communication line between employees and the project folks.  Somebody please fix that.  Whatever discussions or briefs were done to “stakeholders” were not heard or understood.

A separate source told us that US Embassy Wellington and OBO were “looking into having some staff work at home”, or “occupy an office in the British High Commission”, to avoid disruptions while the chancery is renovated.  A check with the BHC, however,  indicates that the British High Commission in Wellington announced on November 24, 2016 that its building will be closed until further notice.  Damage from the recent earthquakes has apparently been discovered in their offices following an inspection so the building was temporarily closed for safety reasons.  Now folks still have work but no workspaces?  What’s the secret to making that work?

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Related items:

FedBiz listing: https://www.fbo.gov/spg/State/A-LM-AQM/A-LM-AQM/SAQMMA-13-R0094/listing.html

The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations Announces the Construction Award for Major Rehabilitation of U.S. Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand; Office of the Spokesperson; Washington, DC -11/12/13

 

Related posts:

 

 

US Mission New Zealand: USS Sampson Supports Kaikoura Earthquake Relief Efforts

Posted: 1:55  am ET

On November 13 we blogged that the US Embassy in Wellington issued an emergency message for New Zealand following a 7.8 earthquake and tsunami warning.  Citing New Zealand’s prime minister, John Key, the USG said that there were 1,200 tourists in Kaikoura — a town of about 3,800 — when the earthquake struck. The tourist town has reportedly been completely cut off from the rest of the island due to landslides and flooding.

On November 15, the US Embassy’s updated message says to direct anyone with friends or family in Kaikoura to make their way to the Takahanga Marae Welfare Centre to register with the Red Cross to be on the evacuation list. On November 16, the amphibious sealift vessel HMNZS Canterbury evacuated around 450 people out of Kaikoura to Christchurch. The NZ Defence Force said that the Royal New Zealand Air Force’s 3 Squadron evacuated another 60 people and delivered two tonnes of aid to Kaikoura, bringing to about 660 the total number of people evacuated from the quake-damaged town.  Surveillance aircraft from the United States Navy and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force also conducted surveys of quake-damaged areas, focusing particular attention on inland and railway routes.

Ships from Australia, Japan, Canada, Singapore including the the United States’ USS Sampson were already traveling to New Zealand to take part in the International Naval Review to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Royal New Zealand Navy. When the earthquake struck, the ships were diverted from the planned celebration to assist in humanitarian efforts.

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US Embassy Wellington Issues 7.8 Earthquake and Tsunami Emergency Message For New Zealand

Posted: 5:19 pm PT
Updated: 10:25 pm PT to include the ambassador’s statement

On November 14, the US Embassy in Wellington issued the following Security Message for U.S. citizens traveling or residing in New Zealand:

The U.S. Geological Service has reported a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in North Canterbury, New Zealand on the South Island in the early hours of Monday morning.  Its epicenter was 15 km north-east of Culverden, close to Hanmer Springs, at 12:02 AM local time.  Military helicopters have been dispatched to the town of Kaikoura on the east coast to assess the damage and help those worst hit.  Prime Minister John Key has confirmed that there have been two fatalities.  Wellington City Council has asked workers based in the city center to stay home today “owing to potential damage to buildings and disruptions to public transport”.

At 8:13 AM, the Ministry of Civil Defence & Emergency Management announced a tsunami marine and beach threat from Napier to north of Dunedin, Cook Straight coastal areas, and The Chatham Islands.  The threat for all other regions has been lifted.  All previous threat regions will experience unusually strong currents for some time.  Areas under ‘Marine and Beach Threat’ can expect unusually strong currents and unpredictable water flows near the shore.  This means a threat to beach, harbor, estuary, and small boat activities.  The severity of currents and changing water flows will vary within a particular coastal area and over the period this warning is in effect.  People in Napier to north of Dunedin, Cook Straight coastal areas, and The Chatham Islands areas should:

  1. Stay out of the water (sea, rivers, and estuaries, including boating activities).
  2. Stay off beaches and shore areas.
  3. Do not go sightseeing.
  4. Share this information with family, neighbors, and friends.
  5. Listen to the radio and/or TV for updates.
  6. Follow instructions of local civil defense authorities.
  7. If beach threat is forecasted for your area, take appropriate evasive action.

We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens traveling to or residing in New Zealand enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at https://step.state.gov/step.  STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency.

U.S. Ambassador Gilbert said that USG employees are all accounted for but they are still trying to locate those who are on vacation.

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Quote of the Day: “As an ambassador I am non-partisan.”

 

“As an ambassador I am non-partisan. But the United States is not what you hear from Donald Trump. We are not bigoted, we are not frightened of immigrants. The election rhetoric is out of control and what you hear from Donald trump is not what the President nor I stand for.”

Ambassador Mark Gilbert
U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand
SunLive: Navarone and the ambassador
April 1, 2016

 

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Photo of the Day: Ambassador Mark Gilbert pitching a ball at the South Pole

Posted: 3:24 am EST

 

Via US Embassy New Zealand/FB:

US Ambassador to New Zealand Mark Gilbert pitching a ball at the South Pole during a visit at the NSF’s McMurdo Station with Political Counselor Lian Von Wantoch.  According to the National Science Foundation, Americans have been studying the Antarctic and its interactions with the rest of the planet without interruption since 1956. These investigators and supporting personnel make up the U.S. Antarctic Program. The three U.S. year-round research stations are located on Ross Island (McMurdo Station), at the geographic South Pole (Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station), and on Anvers Island in the Antarctic Peninsula region (Palmer Station). Learn more about the Antarctic Program here: Division of Polar Programs – National Science Foundation

Screen Shot

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The State Dept’s Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 2015)

Posted: 11:31 EST
Updated: 21:57 PST

 

The “cost-of-living” allowance or COLA is officially called “post allowance” in the State Department.  It is an allowance based on a percentage of “spendable income,” i.e. money you can really put your hands on to spend on goods and services.  The allowance is calculated by comparing costs for goods and services in multiple categories – including food (consumed at home or in restaurants), tobacco/alcohol, clothing, personal care items, furnishings, household goods, medical services, recreation, public transportation, or vehicle-related expenses – to the cost of those same goods and services in Washington, D.C.

The State Department’s Office of Allowances determines a ratio between the average cost of goods and services at the foreign post to costs in Washington, D.C.  It then evaluate expenditure patterns between the foreign location and Washington, D.C. to establish an overall cost index, which may be adjusted biweekly for exchange rate fluctuations.  If the overall cost of goods and services at a foreign post, taking into account expenditure patterns, is at least 3% above the cost of the same goods and services in the Washington, D.C. area, the office  establish a post allowance. See DSSR section 220 for more information.

According to state.gov, this allowance is a balancing factor designed to permit employees to spend the same portion of their basic compensation for current living as they would in Washington, D.C., without incurring a reduction in their standard of living because of higher costs of goods and services at the post.  The amount varies depending on salary level and family size.

We put together a list of countries and posts with the highest State Department COLA rate as of January 2015. Posts in Europe (EUR), Africa (AF), East Asia Pacific (EAP) and the Western Hemisphere (WHA) are represented.  No posts from South Central Asia (SCA) and Near East Asia (NEA) made it to this top list.  The traditionally expected expensive posts like Tokyo, Vienna, Hong Kong, Sydney and Rome are all in the 35% COLA rate and are not included in this list (we chopped the list at 42%; representative posts in France at the 42% rate are included).

Note that we added a couple of columns for the cost of a McDonald’s meal (or equivalent) and cost of a regular cappuccino from numbeo.com, a crowdsourcing site for cost of goods and services around the world. For another snapshot  on most expensive cities for expat employees, click here with data from the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living ranking (costs compared to NYC) and Mercer’s Cost of Living surveys from 2014.

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

DOS | Most Expensive Assignments in the World (February 8, 2015)

 

 Update:
Corrected the spelling for Ediburgh. Also the Allowances Bi-Weekly Updates dated February 8, 2015 indicate several changes on the COLA table, so we updated it to reflect that newest data. Switzerland went from 90% to 100% in this latest update. Shanghai, Copenhagen, Auckland and Wellington went from 50% to 42% COLA posts.  Helsinki, Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Versailles and Oslo were all downgraded from 42% to 35%, so we took them off this table. It is conceivable that the rankings in allowances will change again in a couple of weeks or in a few months.  The bi-weekly updates are located here.  The original list we did based on end of January data is located here.

 

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Confirmations: Gilbert (NZ), Barber (Iceland), Hyatt (Palau), Palmer (Malawi), Heflin (Cabo Verde), Chacon (DGHR)

— Domani Spero

 

Late Friday, December 12, the U.S. Senate confirmed by voice vote the following ambassadorial nominees:

  • Mark Gilbert – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to New Zealand, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Independent State of Samoa;
  • Robert C. Barber – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Iceland;
  • Amy Jane Hyatt – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Palau;
  • Virginia E. Palmer – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Malawi;
  • Donald L. Heflin – to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Cabo Verde;
  • Arnold A. Chacon – to be Director General of the Foreign Service;

The Senate also confirmed David Nathan Saperstein, to be Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom in a 61-36 vote.

Two members of the Broadcasting Board of Governors were also confirmed:

  • Michael W. Kempner – to be a Member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors for a term expiring August 13, 2015;
  • Leon Aron – to be a Member of the Broadcasting Board of Governors for a term expiring August 13, 2016

 

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Happy Birthday America! 4th of July Celebrations From Around the World

— Domani Spero

 

The 2014 July 4th celebrations at our diplomatic missions actually started this past February, with the U.S. Embassy Kathmandu celebration of the 238th Anniversary of the Independence of the United States of America on February 22, 2014. This was followed by  the US Embassy in Oman which hosted its independence day event on March 25, 2014 (see Open Season: This Year’s July 4th Independence Day Celebrations Officially On). Here are the well-timed red, white and blue celebrations that caught our eyes this year.

 

U.S. Consulate Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In an unprecedented tribute to U.S. Independence Day, Rio de Janeiro’s iconic the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro was lit with the colors of the American flag on July 3, 2014.  U.S. Consul General to Rio de Janeiro John Creamer and Christ the Redeemer rector Father Omar Raposo  were at the monument for the special lighting, which happens as Brazil hosts approximately 90,000 U.S. tourists for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Pretty cool!

USCG Rio/FB

USCG Rio/FB

U.S. Embassy Tallin, Estonia

This 4th of July cake was so huge that it needed six people to carry it into the event hosted by Ambassador Jeffrey Levine.  We think that this cake was made by the  Radisson Blu Hotel in Tallinn. We don’t know many many years the hotel has been making this cake for the annual event but just below the photo is the time lapse video showing the making of the 300KG 4th of July cake for Embassy Tallinn a couple of years ago.  Amazing!

 

Independence Day Celebration, June 26, 2014 Photos by U.S. Embassy Tallinn

Independence Day Celebration, June 26, 2014
Photos by U.S. Embassy Tallinn

 

U.S. Embassy Nairobi, Kenya

 

U.S. Embassy Kampala, Uganda

4july14_uganda

U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan

Flags of the 50 United States hanging above the Independence Day celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday,June 24, 2014. (Photo by Musadeq Sadeq/U.S. State Department)

US Embassy Kabul/Flickr

 

U.S. Embassy Beirut, Lebanon

Ambassador David Hale hosted a celebration on June 17 at BIEL with Lebanese officials, members of Parliament, and Embassy guests in attendance.

Via US Embassy Lebanon/FB

Via US Embassy Lebanon/FB

 

U.S. Embassy New Delhi, India

U.S. Embassy Canberra, Australia

Embassy Canberra ran a social media Independence Day contest and came up with MasterChef Australia contestants akitchencat
and The Bread & Butter Chef Kylie Ofiu  as winners to join them for the 4th of July bash.  American chef Tory McPhail also arrived in Canberra last week and got the Embassy kitchen prepped and ready to feed over 600 people for the event hosted by Ambassador John Berry.

Photo via US Embassy Canberra/FB

Photo via US Embassy Canberra/FB

 

U.S. Embassy Wellington, New Zealand

This year’s Independence Day event in Wellington hosted by DCM Marie C. Damour had a#USA culinary theme.  Check out some U.S. recipes at: http://www.discoveramerica.com/usa/culinary-landing.aspx Discover America. And here’s the Kentucky Honey!

Photo via US Embassy New Zealand/Flickr

Photo via US Embassy New Zealand/Flickr

 

U.S.Consulate General Auckland, New Zealand

U.S. Independence Day Event in Auckland, July 3, 2014.  U.S. Independence Day Event in Auckland, July 3, 2014.

U.S. Independence Day Event in Auckland, July 3, 2014.

U.S. Embassy Bangkok, Thailand

 

U.S. Embassy Rome, Italy

A Villa Taverna l’Ambasciatore Phillips ha ospitato il ricevimento per il Giorno dell’Indipendenza, per celebrare l’America e l’amicizia con l’Italia, tra musica, hamburgers e, ovviamente… Fireworks!!

U.S. Embassy Seoul, South Korea

 

Via US Embassy Seoul/FB

Via US Embassy Seoul/FB

 

U.S. Embassy Quito, Ecuador

 

U.S. Embassy  Tel Aviv, Israel

We’re excited to have @dominos with us today. Happy 4th, America. #july4tlv pic.twitter.com/HfyN1Wziyw

U.S. Embassy Valleta, Malta

Embassy Malta had Route 66 as its event and menu theme; the celebration includes vintage American cars on display in the compound.

4july14_malta

Photo via US Embassy Malta/FB

U.S. Embassy Madrid, Spain

U.S. Consulate General Barcelona, Spain

 

U.S. Embassy Copenhagen, Denmark

Rydhave, all ready to receive over 1.000 of Embassy Copenhagen’s closest friends and contacts. Entertainment this year was provided by Basim, and the band The Sentimentals. The Embassy’s own Sonia Evans performed the American national anthem.The food at the event was supplied by CP Cooking.

 

Photo by US Embassy Denmark

Photo by US Embassy Denmark

 

U.S. Embassy London, United Kingdom

 

U.S. Embassy Ottawa, Canada

 

 

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Photo of the Day: Another Year, Another Research Season In Brrrrr-Freeze Antarctica

Via US Embassy NZ

“Each September since 1955 the United States has loaded our planes with scientists, support personnel, cargo, and Kiwi friends and flown south from Christchurch to restart, restaff, and restock full operations at the permanent stations on the Ice after being manned through the long, unforgiving Antarctic winter by skeleton crews. The austral summer research season is a massive, complex enterprise which just in the past ten years has involved flying more than 600 American missions to transport more than 45,000 passengers and about 50 million pounds of equipment and supplies.”

— Ambassador David Huebner

Read more here.  Slideshow includes shots of Mt. Erebus, the second highest volcano in Antarctica and the southernmost active volcano on earth. It last erupted in 2011.  Click here to see the Mt. Erebus Volcano Observatory (MEVO) online.

 

Photos via US Embassy New Zealand/Flickr

Well, hello there!
Photos by USAF Major Jason De Kruyf via US Embassy New Zealand/Flickr
(click on image for a slideshow)

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