USEU Gordon Sondland’s Home Renovation in Brussels: Much Higher Than First Reported

 

WaPo and Vanity Fair both reported about the renovation at the Chief of Mission Residence in Brussels, the official residence of the US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. Excerpt via Vanity Fair:

A sampling of State Department contracts reveals that since September 2018—just a few months after Sondland’s Senate confirmation—the embassy in Brussels has been awarded $95,109 for a pergola, $13,301 for a pool-Jacuzzi heating system, $33,625 on wooden household furniture, $208,683 on a professional kitchen remodel, and two bathroom renovations, one costing $53,809 and the other $82,354. Additionally, the State Department spent $103,748 on a hotel, to ostensibly serve as an alternate residence to the embassy while the building undergoes renovations for months of September and October of this year. (In a statement, a spokesperson for the State Department confirmed that updates to the residence had been funded in 2019 “as part of its regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences.”)

WaPo’s reporting estimates the renovations at nearly $1 million including a $209,000 professional kitchen, and a $223,000 family kitchen. The actual obligation may  actually be higher than first reported.
A sourced familiar with the matter told us that the Chief of Mission Residence (CMR) was built in 1990 so one’s guesstimate is that the residence is  due for renovation as one of those “representational spaces.” The first contracts were awarded in September 2018, just two months after Sondland got to Brussels. (Sondland was confirmed via voice vote on June 28, 2018). Folks who understand how funding in government works can see that this “wasn’t all his initiative.” But .. because there’s always a but,  we understand from our source that the great bulk of the project items were added “more recently.” The Bureau of Overseas Building Operations  (OBO) reportedly approved all of it and the Office of Acquisition Management (State/AQM) awarded the contracts.
So a fairly modest renovation project was amped up until the contract award to an 8A firm reached $2.5 million?  More? Our source also told us, “Whether that much renovation was needed, or exactly how lavish is too lavish for a representational residence, I can’t say.”
Definitive Contract 19AQMM19C0088 is a Fixed Price Federal Contract Award. It was awarded to Pono Aina Management LLC of Oklahoma on Jun 12, 2019. The definitive contract is funded by the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (DOS). The potential value of the award is $2,504,000 with potential end date of June 11, 2020. The solicitation procedure is marked “simplified acquisition” and  the set-aside type is marked “8(A) Sole Source.”

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USEU Ambassador Gordon Sondland in the News: Drip …Drip … Drip…

 

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a Trump donor and a central figure in the Ukraine nightmare is scheduled to appear for a deposition on Thursday, October 17. As far as we could tell there are currently three streams of reporting concerning Sondland: Ukraine. the late breaking news of the renovation of the Chief of Mission Residence (CMR), in Brussels, and the reported ongoing boycott of his Portland-based hotel properties, Provenance Hotels. The Oregonian citing Oregon Public Broadcasting also said that “the popular local ice cream company Salt & Straw had severed its professional ties with Provenance, a chain of upscale hotels across the country, including six in Portland.”
We imagine that if his testimony is favorable to his boss, that we would likely see him tweeted as, oh, who knows … superman or the greatest ambassador ever. Or he could end up spending more time with his family. We should know soon.
WaPo on the $1 million official residence renovation:

The State Department defended the renovations, saying they were part of a “regular 17-year cycle of reviewing and refreshing furnishings and interior décor in representational residences.” The renovations were funded in April, after Sondland’s confirmation, a spokesman said. “Other minor renovations currently underway” were reviewed and approved by staff at the U.S. mission and funded in fiscal 2019, which began in October, after Sondland was confirmed.

Remember when a political ambassador was not pleased with the condition of the official residence mattress, or when embassy staff members spent several days to locate and purchase an umbrella for the official residence patio? Those were way cheaper than  a “family kitchen,” at a cost of just under $223,000. Not sure why he was not allowed to spend his own money. Anyone remember Ambassador Ronald Spogli and the $1.1M wine cellar donated to Villa Taverna in Rome? Also Ambassador Thomas Foley who reportedly spent $500,000 of his own money restoring the US ambassador’s residence in Phoenix Park in Dublin?
By the way, we’d like to know what other official residences are on State/OBO’s docket for renovations. These renovations are not unheard of but these are often scheduled years in advance. We’ve looked for the fiscal year projection for the USEU official residence in Brussels going back to FY2016, and so far have not been able to locate it.  But we see that the “major rehabilitation” of the Chief of Mission Residence Paris is on the expected to be awarded list for FY 2019. Cost for that should be interesting.

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