Issa and Chaffetz: Is State Department Embassy Design Putting Style Over Safety?

June 26, 2014

WASHINGTON – This week, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif) and National Security Subcommittee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), pressed Secretary of State John Kerry after reports (hereand here) that State Department embassy design efforts haverecently emphasized style at the expense of security and cost efficiency. The Committee has requested information from the State Department about specific construction projects that have suffered from problems and extended building times resulting from a deviation from the efficient standard embassy design approach, which stresses security and functionality, to the new “design excellence” program, which stresses openness and innovation.

Issa and Chaffetz write, “It is our understanding the Department has decided to transition from a successful program of embassy construction based on a standard design to one focused more on unique design.  The Committee is interested in the differences between the standard embassy design approach, which stresses security and functionality, versus a new ‘design excellence’ program, which stresses openness and innovation.  In the words of former Under Secretary of State for Management, Grant Green, who presided over the Department’s standard design approach, which moved tens of thousands of people into newer, safer facilities, ‘If it takes longer, it’s going to cost more, and if it costs more and takes longer, it puts people at risk out there waiting for their embassy to be built.’”

The letter also flags the following Department construction projects for additional Committee scrutiny : Ankara, Turkey; Ashgabat, Turkmenistan; Asuncion, Paraguay; Bangkok, Thailand; Beirut, Lebanon; Cotonou, Benin; The Hague, Netherlands; Harare, Zimbabwe; Jakarta, Indonesia; Maputo, Mozambique; Mexico City, Mexico; N’Djamena, Chad; Oslo, Norway; Paramaribo, Suriname; and, Taipei, Taiwan.

The Committee also seeks to review the process by which Department stakeholders developed and approved, over the course of several years, what would constitute a major shift in embassy security, construction, and maintenance.  The letter requests the following information:

1.       All Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (OBO) Project Performance Review (PPR) documents from January 1, 2001 to the present.

2.       A list of all New Embassy Compounds (NEC) completed since January 1, 2001 which includes the following information for each NEC:

     a)      Contract award date;

     b)      Contract completion date;

     c)      Occupancy date;

     d)      Final acceptance date;

     e)      Number of desk and non-desk positions at contract award date;

     f)       Number of desk and non-desk positions at final acceptance date;

     g)      The total acreage of the site;

     h)      Whether the contract was awarded as a Design-Build or a Design-Bid-Build project;

     i)        Whether the NEC was a Standard Embassy Design or not and, if so, whether the NEC was a Large, Medium, Small, or Standard Secure Mini-Compound version of the SED;

     j)        The architect/engineer of record and prime contractor of record, as appropriate;

     k)      The cost of the construction portion of the NEC;

     l)        The total cost of the NEC;

     m)    A photograph of the completed NEC.

3.       All versions of the Top 80 List in Vulnerability Order from January 1, 2001 to the present.

4.       The September 2008 report of the OBO Capital Acquisition Process Working Group.

5.       The May 2013 “Report on Diplomatic Security Organization and Management.”

6.       All Foreign Affairs Manual and Foreign Affairs Handbook sections relating to physical security standards of U.S. Department of State installations abroad, including, but not limited to: The Physical Security Handbook (12 FAH-5 H-000 et seq.), the OSPB Security Standards and Policy Handbook (12 FAH-6), Physical Security of Facilities Abroad (12 FAM 310), and any other physical security standards referenced in OBO contracts.

7.       All documents and communications referring or relating to the use of the term “Design Excellence” in OBO contracts and contract solicitations.

8.       The “Architectural and Engineering Design Guidelines” that preceded the introduction of “Design Excellence.”

9.       The “Architectural and Engineering Design Guidelines” developed for “Design Excellence.”

10.   A graphical representation of the number of personnel moved into safer overseas Department facilities from 2000 to the present.

11.   All versions of the Long-Range Overseas Buildings Plan from 2002 to the present.

12.   All documents and communications referring or relating to the use, or potential use, of Overseas Contingency Operation funding to supplement OBO projects since June 1, 2012.

13.   All documents and communications referring or relating to the use, or potential use, of internal reprogramming of funds for OBO projects since June 1, 2012.

14.   All Action Memoranda and Information Memoranda, referring or relating to the New Embassy Compound in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

15.   All documents, including, but not limited to, plans and drawings, relating to the incorporation of Marine Security Guard Quarters at the New Embassy Compound in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

16.   All documents referring or relating to sending a Marine Security Guard Detachment to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

17.   All documents relating to any re-scoping or de-scoping of the New Embassy Compound in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

18.   All documents and communications referring or relating to the auction of equipment or materials relating to the New Embassy Compound in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

19.   All documents referring or relating to the right-sizing of the New Embassy Compound in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea including, but not limited to, documents relating to increasing the number of desks beyond the number recommended in the right-sizing report.

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.

Click here for a copy of the letter to Secretary Kerry.

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