Help! State/OBO’s Office of Fire Protection Is On Fire!

13 Going on 14 — GFM:


State/OIG released its inspection report of the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations/Office of Fire Protection (FIRE). Here is a quick summary:

The Department of State (Department) is required to establish and maintain an effective fire protection program for its overseas operations under 29 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 1910, 1926, and 1960.The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), Directorate of Operations, Office of Fire Protection (FIRE) manages and directs this program …

FIRE is led by an Office Director and the office’s staff consists of 43 Civil Service employees, 1 personal services contractor, and 11 thirdparty contractors.2 The office has three divisions: Fire Protection Analysis and Field Engineering (FPA) Division, Fire Protection Engineering (FPE) Division, and Fire Protection Systems and Engineering (FPS) Division. The FPA Division conducts fire and life safety evaluations, fire investigations,training, and fire as a weapon analysis.3 The division also evaluates local and contract fire services,oversees the emergency incident management and disaster response oversight,and administers the fire and life safety equipment logistics program for overseas posts.

Office Director Did Not Fully Model the Department’s Leadership and Management Principles

OIG found that the FIRE Office Director did not fully model the Department’s leadership and management principles outlined in 3 FAM 1214,6 especially with regards to communication, selfawareness, and managing conflict. In OIG interviews, 42 percent of FIRE staff interviewed described the director’s leadership style as difficult, specifically“autocratic” or “micromanaging” because he preferred to retain control over decisions with little input from his staff and he often involved himself in administrative activities that would be better handled by firstline supervisors. Staff also told OIG that the Office Director had a propensity for favoritism toward some FIRE employees. Some staff also said FIRE had low morale because of the Office Director’s stance on administrative issues such as not allowing overtime in situations where employees felt it was warranted to meet the office’s mission and his failure to address concerns about the accuracy of FPE Division’s engineer position descriptions and grade levels, which they believed were inaccurate.

The Office Director acknowledged to OIG that his leadership style was difficult for some FIRE employees. He noted that a longstanding dispute about the accuracy of the FPE Division’s engineer position descriptions and grade levels had a detrimental effect on morale.7 In addition, at OBO’s request,8 the Bureau of Global Talent Management (GTM) conducted an organizational assessment in 2019.9The organizational assessment focused on FIRE leadership issues,including communication, technical expert participation in the decision-making process, and collaboration among FIRE divisions. It also focused on a range of administrative issues, including the accuracy of the FPE Division’s engineer position descriptions, standard operating procedures for overtime, and service passports for third-party contractors. During the inspection, FIRE began implementing the recommendations in GTM’s organizational assessment report. However, based on FIRE’s lack of progress on standard operating procedures for overtime and obtaining service passports for third-party contractors at the time of the inspection, OIG made recommendations to address these issues, as described in the Operational Effectiveness and Program Implementation and Resource Management sections of this report. Additionally, OIG suggested to the Office Director that he contact the Foreign Service Institute’s Leadership and Management School to engage a neutral third-party facilitator to address the leadership, morale, and administrative issues reported by FIRE staff. He agreed to use these Foreign Service Institute Leadership and Management School resources to address the issues described above.

Wait, the director told the OIG that his leadership style was difficult for some FIRE employees?”  That’s some 42 percent of the staff who gave him a thumbs down.  Does it need to be 51 percent?
The same individual who does not seem to acknowledged a deficient leadership style is now asked to call FSI’s Leadership and Management School for a third party facilitator “to address the leadership, morale, and administrative issues reported by the staff?” And this was made as a “suggestion” and not even included in the formal recommendations? A suggestion by its nature may be accepted or rejected.  So there will be no follow-up required, hey?
C’mon, folks, 2035 is tad far off for a status update on these issues; your poor blogger may be living in a colony in Mars by then with spotty wifi or in the midst of a zombie apocalypse!
The good news is — the directors of the three divisions of Fire Protection Analysis and Field Engineering (FPA), Fire Protection Engineering (FPE), and Fire Protection Systems and Engineering (FPS) received positive ratings in OIG’s survey and in employee interviews.5  Apparently, the OIG survey respondents rated the three Division Directors very good to excellent for all the 10 leadership and management principles found in 3 FAM 1214, “Leadership and Management Principles for Department Employees.”
We can’t tell from the report when was the last time this office was reviewed by the OIG. It is possible that it may not been inspected for many, many years; we have not been able to find any previous reports. The current report talks about “the past 14 years” and six fiscal years, so there’s that.
Fire Casualties/Fatalities

Over the past 14 years, FIRE reported three fatalities and five injuries.10 Although the number of firerelated fatalities and injuries remained low, the number of fire incidents and the associated monetary loss fluctuated over the past 6 fiscal years, ranging from 95 to 154 incidents per fiscal year, with associated annual losses from $358,206 to $37,291,962.11 Overall, OIG found that FIRE carried out its mission to prevent firerelated fatalities and injuries and generally met its performance objectives.

Footnote 10 notes that OBO/FIRE reported three fatalities over the last 14 years:
— one locally employed staff in Islamabad in 2006,
— one Foreign Service officer in Moscow in 2014 (Also see US Embassy Moscow: FS Employee Hurt in Apartment Building Gas Explosion Dies); Death in the Foreign Service: Why we said “no” to an Embassy Information Sanitation Dude
— one local contractor in Addis Ababa in 2017
FIRE also reported five injuries:
— one locally employed staff in Islamabad in 2006
— one Foreign Service officer and one locally employed staff in Dhaka in 2007
— one locally employed staff in Addis Ababa in 2015
— one Foreign Service officer in Quito in 2019.
Footnote 11 notes that “Of the $37,291,962 total loss, which occurred in FY 2020, $35million was attributable to a fire at Embassy Baghdad following a terrorist attack.”
Other notable items:

— OIG found no requirement for COMs to attest or certify in the annual SOAthat their postshad an effective fire protection program. In addition, the templates in Annex 1o f the SOA required COMs to attest to the effectiveness of eight facility management programs but none were related to the fire protection program.

— OIG found that low participation in fire prevention training at overseas posts hindered the effectiveness of FIRE’s fire protection program. According to a cable sent to all overseas posts,14 often fewer than 20 percent of personnel assigned to post attend fire prevention training15 provided by fire marshals during their visits.

— OIG found that a lack of service passports19 for FIRE’s 11 thirdparty contractors, which would allow them to carry work tools and fire system repair parts through foreign customs,affected operational effectiveness.20FIRE’s thirdparty contractors sometimes were subjected to increased scrutiny from local customs and immigration officials when traveling on their tourist passports.For example, one of FIRE’s thirdparty contractors was detained for several hours when host government authorities discovered hand tools and electronic detection and testing equipment in his luggage, while in another instance, some of his equipment was seized. FIRE reported that obtaining a business visa from the host country has not prevented these issues.CA recommends that most thirdparty contractors should continue to travel on tourist passports. FIRE first tried to obtain a service passport for a thirdparty contractor in 2017, but CA denied the request because it determined that FIRE’s justification was insufficient.

— OIG found FIRE had an inefficient manual system for tracking overseas posts’ compliance with its fire safety inspection recommendations. Specifically, FIRE used spreadsheets to track compliance with its recommendations for more than 90 overseas post inspections.

— FIRE’s overtime policy did not fully comply with Department standards in 3 FAM 3133.1, 3 FAM 3133.2,and 3 FAM 3133.3governing regularly and irregularly scheduled overtime.22 Although FIRE’s overtime policy addressed irregularly scheduled overtime, it did not include guidelines for regularly scheduled overtime that must be scheduled in advance of a workweek. Additionally, OIG reviewed statements from supervisors in FIRE documents instructing employees that the office does not pay overtime, that employees should not submit requests for paid overtime, and that FIRE has had for many years an unwritten policy that overtime is and shall be unscheduled and therefore paid by compensatory time and not overtime pay.

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