Advertisements

New Ambassador to NZ Scott Brown to Arrive at Post With Some Ready Made Headaches in Waiting

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: 12:25 am ET

 

In January, we heard several concerns about the ongoing construction project at the U.S. Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand related to safety issues, structural and health concerns and communication issues in the work disruption that followed the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016 (see US Embassy New Zealand’s Chancery Rehab Project: Safety and Health Concerns With Ongoing Construction).  In State/OBO’s response to our prior inquiry, we were told that rehabilitation project of the existing chancery in Wellington to meet seismic and security requirements is scheduled for completion in early 2018.

The new Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa Scott Brown is reportedly expected to arrive in Wellington this week (also see New Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa Scott Brown Introduces Self in Home Video). Below is from a new howler we got which shows the new ambassador has ready made headaches to welcome him at his new gig.

“Regarding Embassy Wellington’s seismic upgrade, the latest completion date is now “mid-2019”.

“No deaths on site so far, although there have been a few more injuries, fires, power outages and evacuations.”

“Staff members are now back at the British High Commission with their workspaces scheduled to be consumed by the project again, because we didn’t learn from our mistake last time.”

On a positive note, OBO built post a beautiful new kitchen…which we can’t use during business hours because the only entrance is through the Embassy’s *one* meeting room.

“Will incoming Ambassador Brown be able to make any sense of this mess when he arrives this week?”

“It’d be lovely to have a town hall to welcome him, except that the multi-purpose room is scheduled for teardown this week, too.”

via replygifs.net

#

 

Related posts:

 

Advertisements

Tillerson Travels to #Australia and #NZ: Protests, Bird Flips, Water-Filled Condoms and a DJT Effigy

Posted: 2:12 am ET

 

Secretary Tillerson is currently on travel to Australia and New Zealand from June 5-6. In Australia, America’s chief diplomat was asked, “what specific promises have you brought on trade and climate to ensure that Australians do not interpret “America First” to mean “America the selfish and do it alone?” The reception in New Zealand was harsher. Could not recall in recent memory when the Kiwis turned up collectively to welcome the Secretary of State with protests, bird flips, water-filled condoms and a presidential effigy.

New Zealand

Australia

#

SFRC Clears Scott P. Brown’s Nomination to be Ambassador to New Zealand

Posted: 12:51 am ET

On May 17, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) held a confirmation hearing for Scott Brown’s nomination to be  U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, and to serve concurrently and without additional compensation as U.S. Ambassador to The Independent State Of Samoa.  The prepared testimony as well as the video of the hearing is available to download here.

On May 25, the SFRC cleared the former senator’s nomination which will now go to the full Senate for a vote.

Below is the Certificate of Demonstrated Competence prepared for the SFRC and made available by the State Department:

SUBJECT: Ambassadorial Nomination: Certificate of Demonstrated Competence — Foreign Service

Act, Section 304(a)(4)

POST: New Zealand and Independent State of Samoa

CANDIDATE: Scott Philip Brown

Scott P. Brown is a prominent politician, political analyst, and attorney. He has more than 30 years in public service, most recently serving as a United States Senator for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He was a member of the Armed Services, the Homeland Security and Government Affairs, the Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and the Veterans’ Affairs Committees. He served as both an enlisted man and as an officer in the Massachusetts and Maryland National Guard. He retired as a Colonel after 35 years of service, the last four of which were at the Pentagon. Currently, while maintaining his law practice he is also a contracted contributor and analyst for Fox National News. He travels extensively speaking before colleges, businesses, trade associations, and financial and government advocacy groups globally. Senator Brown’s extensive experience in municipal, state, and federal government, his military leadership positions, business activities, and his employment for more than 30 years as an attorney, coupled with his many philanthropic endeavors, make him very well-qualified to serve as Ambassador to New Zealand and the Independent State of Samoa.

Senator Brown worked as an attorney for Nixon Peabody, LLP, Boston, MA (2013-14). He served on the Board of Directors and as an Advisor to Kadant, Inc., Westford, MA (2013- 2015) and as an advisor to 1st Alliance Lending, LLP, East Hartford, CT (2014-2015) . He also is an Advisor to SkyBridge Capital, New York, NY (since 2014) and to Ron Terwilliger Housing Foundation, Vienna, VA (since 2015). His businesses include managing S&G Realty, S&G Realty Ventures and S&G Media (since 2013). He was an Assessor (1987-1990) and Selectman (1994-1998) for the Town of Wrentham, MA. He served as Massachusetts State Representative for the 9th Norfolk District (1998-2005) and as State Senator for the Norfolk, Bristol, and Middlesex District (2005-2010).

He earned a B.A. from Tufts University, Medford, MA (1981) and a J.D. from Boston College Law School, Newton Centre, MA (1985). He has Honorary Doctorates from Lasell College (Humanitarian Letters) and Nichols College (Public Administration).

#

Trump to Nominate Ex-Senator Scott Brown as Ambassador to New Zealand

Posted: 3:38 am ET

 

#

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.

#

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.”

*

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?

#

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.

#

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.

#

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

 

#

 

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

#