Committee finds State prioritizing aesthetics over security
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a staff report concluding the U.S. Department of State (Department) prioritizes architectural significance over security and cost efficiency in the construction of U.S. embassies abroad. Since shifting to the Design Excellence Program in 2010, the report found embassy compound construction is grossly over budget, significantly delayed, and keeps American diplomats in less secure facilities longer than necessary.
From the report:
“The Department’s favoring of architectural significance comes at the expense of ensuring our diplomats are in safe facilities and saving taxpayer dollars. The report illustrates what can go wrong when new design concepts are introduced under a compressed construction schedule and how costs skyrocket when aesthetics drive decision-making.”
The Committee’s two-year investigation included the review of more than 355,000 documents, conducting 14 transcribed interviews and depositions, and visiting more than 10 sites.
- The Department’s shift away from the Standard Embassy Design (SED) to Design Excellence brought about longer planning and construction schedules, which were accompanied by millions of dollars in increased costs for facilities.
- In the six years since the Department started Design Excellence, not one Design Excellence-only facility has been completed. (*Some facilities using a hybrid method have been completed.) That compares to an average of eight facilities per year under the Standard Embassy Design.
- Design Excellence keeps U.S. personnel abroad waiting for safe and adequate facilities.
- Congress should require the Department to return to an SED-type template as the default for all new embassy and consulate facilities.
- Congress should exercise greater scrutiny over the Department’s budget requests, including considering a budget cap on facility design costs.
- Congress should require Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) to produce an annual Long-Range Building Plan and Long-Range Maintenance Plan. While required under the Foreign Affairs Manual, OBO has not updated the plans since 2013.