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Overview:

Located within the US Department of State, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) is responsible for the buildings that house America’s overseas embassies, consulates and missions. OBO conducts much of its work using domestic contractors who handle the building of new embassies. Since the 1998 bombings of American embassies in east Africa, the federal government has conducted the largest construction effort in US diplomatic history to upgrade diplomatic posts and secure them against terrorist attacks. Problems have arisen, however, in the course of several high-profile embassy projects, including the sprawling new complex in Baghdad, Iraq.

 
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History:

Over the past 30 years, American diplomatic outposts have been at the center of some major events in American foreign relations. On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and took approximately 70 Americans captive. The terrorist act triggered the most profound crisis of the Jimmy Carter presidency, contributing greatly to his only serving one term in the White House.
 
In 1982 the US State Department found itself embarrassed by revelations that a significant portion of its brand new, half-completed embassy in Moscow was filled with eavesdropping equipment planted by Soviet spies, rendering the facility useless (it was subsequently torn down and rebuilt).
 
The following year terrorists destroyed the US embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, by exploding a van carrying 2,000-pounds of explosives outside the seven-story building. The bombing killed 63, including 17 Americans.
 
In August 1998, an even greater attack on US embassies took place in Kenya and Tanzania as twin car-bombings killed 224 people including 43 State Department employees. The attacks in east Africa prompted the federal government to reevaluate the security of its diplomatic outposts by convening a group of experts, the Overseas Presence Advisory Panel, which issued a report (PDF) in 1999. The findings of the “America’s Overseas Presence in the 21st Century” report led to an unprecedented building program to fortify US diplomatic outposts throughout the world.
 
In 2001 the Secretary of State upgraded the Office of Foreign Buildings Operations (FBO) to the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), reporting directly to the Undersecretary for Management. Retired Major General Charles E. Williams was selected to head the new OBO and charged with the mission to transform the way embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions were built and maintained.
 
After assessing the state of US diplomatic facilities overseas, the State Department determined that more than 85% of embassies, missions and consulates did not meet security standards and were vulnerable to terrorist attacks. This prompted the implementation of a $21 billion program to replace 201 insecure and dilapidated diplomatic buildings. As of the end of FY 2007, OBO had constructed more than 50 new facilities and moved nearly 15,000 staff to safer buildings at a cost of more than $5.9 billion.
 
However, most remaining overseas diplomatic office facilities will not be replaced in the near future. To address security deficiencies at these facilities, OBO is planning to spend approximately $140 million per year for its Compound Security Upgrade Program (CSUP), which aims to enhance physical security protection for vulnerable facilities until they are replaced. The CSUP entails the installation of improved perimeter security measures and forced entry/ballistic resistant doors and windows, among other security upgrades. At posts where OBO does not plan to replace the embassy facility, CSUP will maintain enhanced physical security protection for as long as the buildings are used by State Department personnel.
 

Standard Embassy Design Document

(PDF)

 

more
What it Does:

Located within the US Department of State, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) is responsible for overseeing the design, construction, acquisition, maintenance, use, and sale of overseas properties that house American embassies, consulates and missions. OBO conducts much of its work using domestic contractors who handle the building of new embassies under strict guidelines provided by OBO.
 
In 2001 the State Department began producing an annual Long-Range Overseas Buildings Plan (LROBP) as part of an ambitious effort to replace or improve security for overseas embassies. The LROBP was a  six-year plan documenting OBO’s program for the replacement of the least secure embassies and consulates around the world. Appropriations for new embassy construction have soared from $965 million in 2001 to $2.52 billion in 2005. Since 2001, OBO has completed 67 projects and has 28 under design and construction. Among OBO's completed projects are those in Abu Dhabi, Baghdad, Beijing, Berlin, Bogotá, Cape Town, Dar es Salaam, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Lima, Kabul, Kampala, Luanda, Nairobi, Phnom Penh and São Paulo and Tashkent.
 
OBO operates through four primary program offices: Planning and Development, Real Estate, Project Execution, and Operations and Maintenance. Planning and development produces the LROBP, conducts strategic planning, prepares business case analyses and provides detailed long-range facility planning, space-requirements planning, project development and cost-management analyses necessary to design and construct new facilities and renovate existing ones.
 
OBO's Office of Real Estate and Property Management manages the process for locating sites for new embassy compounds (NEC). The site acquisition process typically begins two years prior to the fiscal year in which the design/build contract for the NEC will be awarded. The process usually involves OBO employing an international real estate firm to search a city for sites that meet OBO criteria. The real estate office also is in charge of decommissioning old embassy compounds and selling off the properties. The proceeds from the sale of vacated properties are used to partially fund OBO’s ongoing programs. The State Department owns the majority of the non-residential properties it occupies overseas. This responsibility includes oversight of all leases of office and residential property - more than 12,000 properties around the world.
 
The Office of Project Execution is responsible for engineering design, construction and the commissioning of all facilities. Its US and on-site construction management staffs oversee the work of general contractors that build and renovate the State Department's overseas facilities. The office also provides assistance in soliciting and negotiating architectural service contracts and reviewing project drawings, specifications and associated documents. In addition, the office provides security measures that safeguard overseas construction projects from potentially hostile terrorist acts and intelligence efforts.
 
The Office of Operations and Maintenance ensures the ongoing function of overseas structures, both government-owned and leased. The office manages a major rehabilitation program that upgrades and replaces worn-out building systems that can no longer be physically or economically maintained by routine preventative and unscheduled maintenance and repair activities. The office also includes fire protection and environmental safety and health programs.
 
To better accomplish its mission of building new embassies, OBO created the Standard Embassy Design (SED) system. SED lays out a consistent method for OBO to plan, award, design and construct new embassy projects more quickly than in the past; to simplify the building process; and to provide economically feasible facilities overseas. The SED consists of a series of documents, including site and building plans, specifications, design criteria, an application manual describing its adaptation for a specific project and contract requirements.
 
The SED provides plans for the building site, as well as perimeter facilities such as the Compound Access Control facilities and utility building, the office building and quarters for an embassy’s Marine Security Guards. SED documents identify particular architectural and engineering concepts that OBO wants all contractors to use to ensure that all new facilities are safe, secure and functional. These requirements include:
  • Allowance for future expansion on the site, reserving space for additional facilities such as a large office annex, small office annex, warehouse and additional parking.
  • Allowance for future expansion of the office building.
  • Established areas for official, staff and visitor vehicle parking.
  • Established building mass - two office blocks flanking a central atrium.
  • Established building entrances and locations of core elements.
  • Established minimum permissible baseline standards for building materials as well as interior finishes.
  • Consideration of high temperatures, humidity, dust, rain and salinity of air when designing and selecting mechanical equipment.
 
OBO claims that the use of SED has reduced the time it used to take to build new embassies. Overall, new embassies are opening in two-thirds the time it used to take from site selection to project completion, resulting in a savings of $63 million during FY 2002, according to OBO.
 
OBO also utilizes an Industry Advisory Panel consisting of experts that provide insights on a variety of issues, including the latest innovations in design and construction that streamline processes and produce cost effective methods.

 

OBO’s New Embassy Compound Process (PDF)

 

more
Where Does the Money Go:

The primary stakeholders of the OBO are construction and engineering firms. Most building contracts awarded by OBO go to American domestic companies, though a few foreign businesses have been hired to perform work on diplomatic facilities. A listing of OBO contractors from 2001 to 2006 can viewed here (PDF).
 
Companies that show up repeatedly on OBO contractor lists include ABB SUSA, Inc., Caddell Construction Co., Carothers Construction, J.A. Jones Construction Company, H.B. Zachry, Hensel Phelps Construction Co., Hitt Contracting, Fluor Intercontinental and Parsons.
 
Smaller firms include Cal-Pac Engineering Co., Capitol Technology Services, Cosmopolitan Inc., Desbuild Inc., Engineering Design Technologies, Forney Enterprises, Futron, GEC Associates, Gilford Corp., Greenway Enterprises, International Builders, Intrepid Engineering Services, Martinez International Corp., Montage, North American Telecommunications and Packard Construction Corp.
 
OBO also works with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security in making decisions, along with input from Congress, on what embassies or consulates need replacing for security reasons. These priorities are formulated into a Top 80 List of new projects.

 

Doing Business with the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (by Guy Timblerlake, Washington Technology)

 

more
Controversies:

U.S. Embassy in Baghdad
Despite OBO’s mission to build America’s diplomatic facilities more quickly and efficiently, serious problems continue to plague some projects. In a November 2003 GAO report (PDF), the Government Accountability Office reported that 22 construction projects were either behind schedule or going over budget. By June 2006, things had improved, with new embassies going up three years faster this decade than in the 1980s or 1990s, according to a 2006 GAO report (PDF). But then a single mortar shell opened up a whole new controversy for the State Department and OBO.
 
In May 2007 Iraqi insurgents attacked the area in Baghdad where the US was building a new $600-million embassy. A mortar shell smashed into the partially built embassy, damaging a wall and causing minor injuries to people inside the building. It also exposed enormous problems in the management of the construction project.
 
The contractor in charge, James L. Golden, attempted to alter the scene of the blast, according to government officials. Furthermore, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) prevented other State Department officials from investigating the incident.
 
US Ambassador Ryan Crocker banished Golden from Iraq, but he continued to oversee the construction of the Baghdad embassy and serve as the liaison with the new contractor, Kuwait-based First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co. It was also discovered that OBO continued to use Golden on other projects.
 
The embassy has been plagued by other deficiencies. The electrical system in the dining facility of a nearby guard camp malfunctioned when it was tested. OBO defended its contractor, First Kuwaiti, and blamed Houston-based KBR, Inc., which was hired to operate the facility. Meanwhile, First Kuwaiti said it stood by the quality of its work.
 
In December 2007 OBO’s leader, Retired Major General Charles E. Williams, resigned. His replacement, acting director Richard Shinnick, rejected Williams’ certification that the now-$740 million US embassy in Baghdad was “substantially completed.” Instead, Shinnick began a top-to-bottom review of the project.
 
Shinnick said the State Department hoped that the sprawling embassy complex - originally scheduled to be completed in September 2007 - might be ready by March 2008. But he refused to set a target date because past deadlines had forced a rush to complete the embassy’s defective work. “That's not the message I want to send,” he said.
 
Once completed, the new embassy compound will house more than 1,000 diplomats and military personnel, many of whom live and work at a palace of former president Saddam Hussein that is subject to frequent rocket and mortar attacks - adding urgency to completing the new complex.
 
But problems with the embassy’s firefighting systems continue. In January 2008 a media story revealed that the firefighting systems were defective, and that Shinnick’s predecessor, Williams, rushed to declare the new embassy complex completed and had ignored the concerns of the State Department’s professional fire experts. Shinnick dispatched a fire-safety team to Baghdad after the story broke, and the team found that repairs that experts had urged dating back to August had not been done.
Criminal probe into U.S. Embassy in Iraq construction (by Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers)
State Dept. orders another review of troubled Baghdad embassy (by Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers)
 
Security Contract Questioned
Another OBO contractor, EmbSEC, came under scrutiny by the GAO in 2003 after an investigation into the company’s contract revealed several problems. EmbSEC, a joint venture involving RDR, Inc. and BP International, was given a $354 million no-bid contract to install and maintain technical security equipment, such as alarms, cameras and controlled-access equipment for embassies.
 
GAO received a tip through its fraud hotline about the contract, which was awarded without bids from other firms. Other concerns stemmed from the manner in which travel costs were paid by OBO to EmbSEC. GAO concluded that the decision to award the contract on a sole-source basis was improper, and that the government wound up paying more for the contractors’ travel costs than it should have.
 
New Kabul Embassy Construction Faulted
A report by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that work at the new US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, was running behind schedule and over budget. The investigation examined the work by contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root, Inc. (KBR).
 
The report concluded that the contract provided KBR with “limited motivation to complete the project on time and within budget.” OIG also concluded that the contractor failed to comply with the contract’s schedule specification, thus denying OBO the ability to fully oversee the Kabul Embassy Project.
 
The embassy, originally scheduled to open December 2004, began operating in March 2006. Six months later the embassy was the site of a car bombing that killed 16 people.
Suicide Bomber Kills 16 in Kabul Near Embassy (by Carlotta Gall and Abdul Waheed Wafa, New York Times)

Evaluation and Analysis of Cost/Schedule Data Kabul Embassy Compound Project

(OIG) (PDF)

 

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See all 20 comments

Comments

Alice Hogan 1 week ago
I was just in London where we served at our embassy on Grosvenor Square. Has anyone at OBO taken a look at what our embassy looks like right now? A power washing of the building would go a long way, even if we are planning to move on. There are sandwich wrappings around the Eisenhower statue, surly local guards giving advice at American Citizen services (before one can actually see an American)and all the commemorative statues of Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, and the Eagle Squadron -- are they to be left behind as we retreat to the hinterlands? Do we plan to replant the Gum tree given as a memorial to the dead of September 11, 2001? Our embassy in Grosvenor Square does not represents the most powerful nation on earth. It did at one time, warts and all, and I was saddened to see it now. P.S. Where does the horse and carriage park when they come to to pick up a new ambassador to present his credentials?
kenneth Gunther 6 months ago
Is there a list of government contractors that have been awarded building contracts from OBO ?I am interested HVAC sheet metal,been all over the world with 20 years experience and all clearance. Thanks Ken Gunther kengunther2004@yahoo.com
Hasan Keskin 7 months ago
We have been the mechanical sub-contractor company for several US Embassy projects like West African countries (Cameroon, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone),Nepal, Algerai, Turkey, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan etc. You should require a mechanical sub-contractor for your US Embassy projects please contact us for opportunity. Thanks
eric brown 1 year ago
I am looking for info on working overseas as hvac tech. I have 12 years in the industry and i would like to work overseas. If you could contact me at ebro189@yahoo.com it would be greatly appreciated
Gene Knight 1 year ago
Could you please tell us who is doing the Fire alarm repairs at the Embassies now, We would like to return as there fire alarm team. I have been to over 90 embassies. and I miss them all. Thanks Gene and sueann Knight Raeford,NC 910-904-0445
Cordell Beache 1 year ago
Please provide information on overseas consulting in the field of fire protection.
alexandermanikas 2 years ago
im a sheetmetal worker and would for obo ive worked on obo jobs before iraq and indonisa if you have any work please contact me i like the way obo does business thank you
Edward Flores 2 years ago
Can someone guide me to Electrical Contractors that have contracting work for the US Embassies please ? Thank you in advance.
akingbehin o .a 2 years ago
presently am working with us embassy abuja, facilities maintenance department as a mason,i will like your department to furnish me with a course details that can make me to improve on my skills.
Sandor Nyerges 2 years ago
i would like to echo the question asked by mustapha baha back in 2010: in the case of a us government owned building, where can i inquire about a possible sale? in my case the country is different, (not algeria) but the situation is similar: empty apartments whose title document specifies the us government as the owner, has been unoccupied for over ten years and the building is falling into disrepair. the first step is to find out whether the government is willing to consider sellin...

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Founded: 2001
Annual Budget: $1.4 billion
Employees: 918
Official Website: http://www.state.gov/obo/
Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations
Namm, Adam
Ambassador

President Barack Obama has turned to an experienced Latin America hand, Adam E. Namm, to serve as the new ambassador to Ecuador, replacing former ambassador Heather Hodges, who in April 2011 was expelled by the Ecuadorian government after the release by WikiLeaks of a diplomatic cable in which Hodges discussed allegedly corrupt police officials appointed to positions of high command by President Rafael Correa, and even speculated that Correa “must have known” about the corruption.

 
Born circa 1963, Namm is the son of Arnold Namm, the owner of GNP Specialties, and his wife Susan Hammel Namm. He graduated in 1981 from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Namm earned an A.B. in International Relations from Brown University circa 1985, and an M.S. in National Security Strategy in 2004 from the National War College, where he wrote a paper analyzing the Spanish Civil War in light of the works of military theorists Carl von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu.
 
Namm began his career at the State Department in 1987. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Namm has served both overseas and stateside. His overseas postings include stints as Management Counselor in Islamabad, Pakistan; Human Resources Officer in Bogota, Colombia; General Services Officer in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Consular Officer in Bogota and Santo Domingo. His domestic assignments have included Executive Assistant in the Bureau of Administration, Director of the Office of Allowances, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Management, Desk Officer and Post Management Officer in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and two consecutive assignments at the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), including Director of OBO from April 2009 to September 2011. 
 
Namm speaks Spanish and French.
 
A longtime resident of Arlington, Virginia, in 2006, Namm allowed his name to be used in a New York Times story on rodent extermination; the story detailed Namm’s run-ins with rats, which had pushed up a floorboard in his home and thoroughly frightened a pet hamster.
 
Namm and his wife, Mei Huang, have one daughter.
 
Squeamishly Waging the Rodent War (by Alina Tugend, New York Times)
Ecuador Expels U.S. Ambassador Over WikiLeaks Cable (by Simon Romero, New York Times)
 
 
more
Shinnick, Richard
Previous Director, Ad Interim
Richard J. Shinnick served from January 2008 until April 2009 as the acting director for the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operation (OBO)s. Shinnick joined OBO after retiring from the Foreign Service, where he was a Senior Foreign Service Officer, class of Minister Counselor (FE/MC). Recently he served as senior advisor (expert) for the Under Secretary for Management for Special Projects.
 
During his 27-year Foreign Service career, Shinnick served in a variety of positions including principal officer at Milan, executive director of the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, and deputy executive secretary and executive director of the Executive Secretariat. He was also the deputy executive director of the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs and deputy director for operations of the Foreign Buildings Office, now the Overseas Buildings Operations.
 
Shinnick currently serves as vice chairman of the board for the American Foreign Service Protective Association, an insurance company that provides coverage for 30,000 current and retired Foreign Service, State Department, Defense Department and other Executive Branch personnel and their families.
 
more
Bookmark and Share
Overview:

Located within the US Department of State, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) is responsible for the buildings that house America’s overseas embassies, consulates and missions. OBO conducts much of its work using domestic contractors who handle the building of new embassies. Since the 1998 bombings of American embassies in east Africa, the federal government has conducted the largest construction effort in US diplomatic history to upgrade diplomatic posts and secure them against terrorist attacks. Problems have arisen, however, in the course of several high-profile embassy projects, including the sprawling new complex in Baghdad, Iraq.

 
more
History:

Over the past 30 years, American diplomatic outposts have been at the center of some major events in American foreign relations. On November 4, 1979, Iranian militants stormed the United States Embassy in Tehran and took approximately 70 Americans captive. The terrorist act triggered the most profound crisis of the Jimmy Carter presidency, contributing greatly to his only serving one term in the White House.
 
In 1982 the US State Department found itself embarrassed by revelations that a significant portion of its brand new, half-completed embassy in Moscow was filled with eavesdropping equipment planted by Soviet spies, rendering the facility useless (it was subsequently torn down and rebuilt).
 
The following year terrorists destroyed the US embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, by exploding a van carrying 2,000-pounds of explosives outside the seven-story building. The bombing killed 63, including 17 Americans.
 
In August 1998, an even greater attack on US embassies took place in Kenya and Tanzania as twin car-bombings killed 224 people including 43 State Department employees. The attacks in east Africa prompted the federal government to reevaluate the security of its diplomatic outposts by convening a group of experts, the Overseas Presence Advisory Panel, which issued a report (PDF) in 1999. The findings of the “America’s Overseas Presence in the 21st Century” report led to an unprecedented building program to fortify US diplomatic outposts throughout the world.
 
In 2001 the Secretary of State upgraded the Office of Foreign Buildings Operations (FBO) to the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), reporting directly to the Undersecretary for Management. Retired Major General Charles E. Williams was selected to head the new OBO and charged with the mission to transform the way embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions were built and maintained.
 
After assessing the state of US diplomatic facilities overseas, the State Department determined that more than 85% of embassies, missions and consulates did not meet security standards and were vulnerable to terrorist attacks. This prompted the implementation of a $21 billion program to replace 201 insecure and dilapidated diplomatic buildings. As of the end of FY 2007, OBO had constructed more than 50 new facilities and moved nearly 15,000 staff to safer buildings at a cost of more than $5.9 billion.
 
However, most remaining overseas diplomatic office facilities will not be replaced in the near future. To address security deficiencies at these facilities, OBO is planning to spend approximately $140 million per year for its Compound Security Upgrade Program (CSUP), which aims to enhance physical security protection for vulnerable facilities until they are replaced. The CSUP entails the installation of improved perimeter security measures and forced entry/ballistic resistant doors and windows, among other security upgrades. At posts where OBO does not plan to replace the embassy facility, CSUP will maintain enhanced physical security protection for as long as the buildings are used by State Department personnel.
 

Standard Embassy Design Document

(PDF)

 

more
What it Does:

Located within the US Department of State, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) is responsible for overseeing the design, construction, acquisition, maintenance, use, and sale of overseas properties that house American embassies, consulates and missions. OBO conducts much of its work using domestic contractors who handle the building of new embassies under strict guidelines provided by OBO.
 
In 2001 the State Department began producing an annual Long-Range Overseas Buildings Plan (LROBP) as part of an ambitious effort to replace or improve security for overseas embassies. The LROBP was a  six-year plan documenting OBO’s program for the replacement of the least secure embassies and consulates around the world. Appropriations for new embassy construction have soared from $965 million in 2001 to $2.52 billion in 2005. Since 2001, OBO has completed 67 projects and has 28 under design and construction. Among OBO's completed projects are those in Abu Dhabi, Baghdad, Beijing, Berlin, Bogotá, Cape Town, Dar es Salaam, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Lima, Kabul, Kampala, Luanda, Nairobi, Phnom Penh and São Paulo and Tashkent.
 
OBO operates through four primary program offices: Planning and Development, Real Estate, Project Execution, and Operations and Maintenance. Planning and development produces the LROBP, conducts strategic planning, prepares business case analyses and provides detailed long-range facility planning, space-requirements planning, project development and cost-management analyses necessary to design and construct new facilities and renovate existing ones.
 
OBO's Office of Real Estate and Property Management manages the process for locating sites for new embassy compounds (NEC). The site acquisition process typically begins two years prior to the fiscal year in which the design/build contract for the NEC will be awarded. The process usually involves OBO employing an international real estate firm to search a city for sites that meet OBO criteria. The real estate office also is in charge of decommissioning old embassy compounds and selling off the properties. The proceeds from the sale of vacated properties are used to partially fund OBO’s ongoing programs. The State Department owns the majority of the non-residential properties it occupies overseas. This responsibility includes oversight of all leases of office and residential property - more than 12,000 properties around the world.
 
The Office of Project Execution is responsible for engineering design, construction and the commissioning of all facilities. Its US and on-site construction management staffs oversee the work of general contractors that build and renovate the State Department's overseas facilities. The office also provides assistance in soliciting and negotiating architectural service contracts and reviewing project drawings, specifications and associated documents. In addition, the office provides security measures that safeguard overseas construction projects from potentially hostile terrorist acts and intelligence efforts.
 
The Office of Operations and Maintenance ensures the ongoing function of overseas structures, both government-owned and leased. The office manages a major rehabilitation program that upgrades and replaces worn-out building systems that can no longer be physically or economically maintained by routine preventative and unscheduled maintenance and repair activities. The office also includes fire protection and environmental safety and health programs.
 
To better accomplish its mission of building new embassies, OBO created the Standard Embassy Design (SED) system. SED lays out a consistent method for OBO to plan, award, design and construct new embassy projects more quickly than in the past; to simplify the building process; and to provide economically feasible facilities overseas. The SED consists of a series of documents, including site and building plans, specifications, design criteria, an application manual describing its adaptation for a specific project and contract requirements.
 
The SED provides plans for the building site, as well as perimeter facilities such as the Compound Access Control facilities and utility building, the office building and quarters for an embassy’s Marine Security Guards. SED documents identify particular architectural and engineering concepts that OBO wants all contractors to use to ensure that all new facilities are safe, secure and functional. These requirements include:
  • Allowance for future expansion on the site, reserving space for additional facilities such as a large office annex, small office annex, warehouse and additional parking.
  • Allowance for future expansion of the office building.
  • Established areas for official, staff and visitor vehicle parking.
  • Established building mass - two office blocks flanking a central atrium.
  • Established building entrances and locations of core elements.
  • Established minimum permissible baseline standards for building materials as well as interior finishes.
  • Consideration of high temperatures, humidity, dust, rain and salinity of air when designing and selecting mechanical equipment.
 
OBO claims that the use of SED has reduced the time it used to take to build new embassies. Overall, new embassies are opening in two-thirds the time it used to take from site selection to project completion, resulting in a savings of $63 million during FY 2002, according to OBO.
 
OBO also utilizes an Industry Advisory Panel consisting of experts that provide insights on a variety of issues, including the latest innovations in design and construction that streamline processes and produce cost effective methods.

 

OBO’s New Embassy Compound Process (PDF)

 

more
Where Does the Money Go:

The primary stakeholders of the OBO are construction and engineering firms. Most building contracts awarded by OBO go to American domestic companies, though a few foreign businesses have been hired to perform work on diplomatic facilities. A listing of OBO contractors from 2001 to 2006 can viewed here (PDF).
 
Companies that show up repeatedly on OBO contractor lists include ABB SUSA, Inc., Caddell Construction Co., Carothers Construction, J.A. Jones Construction Company, H.B. Zachry, Hensel Phelps Construction Co., Hitt Contracting, Fluor Intercontinental and Parsons.
 
Smaller firms include Cal-Pac Engineering Co., Capitol Technology Services, Cosmopolitan Inc., Desbuild Inc., Engineering Design Technologies, Forney Enterprises, Futron, GEC Associates, Gilford Corp., Greenway Enterprises, International Builders, Intrepid Engineering Services, Martinez International Corp., Montage, North American Telecommunications and Packard Construction Corp.
 
OBO also works with the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security in making decisions, along with input from Congress, on what embassies or consulates need replacing for security reasons. These priorities are formulated into a Top 80 List of new projects.

 

Doing Business with the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations (by Guy Timblerlake, Washington Technology)

 

more
Controversies:

U.S. Embassy in Baghdad
Despite OBO’s mission to build America’s diplomatic facilities more quickly and efficiently, serious problems continue to plague some projects. In a November 2003 GAO report (PDF), the Government Accountability Office reported that 22 construction projects were either behind schedule or going over budget. By June 2006, things had improved, with new embassies going up three years faster this decade than in the 1980s or 1990s, according to a 2006 GAO report (PDF). But then a single mortar shell opened up a whole new controversy for the State Department and OBO.
 
In May 2007 Iraqi insurgents attacked the area in Baghdad where the US was building a new $600-million embassy. A mortar shell smashed into the partially built embassy, damaging a wall and causing minor injuries to people inside the building. It also exposed enormous problems in the management of the construction project.
 
The contractor in charge, James L. Golden, attempted to alter the scene of the blast, according to government officials. Furthermore, the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) prevented other State Department officials from investigating the incident.
 
US Ambassador Ryan Crocker banished Golden from Iraq, but he continued to oversee the construction of the Baghdad embassy and serve as the liaison with the new contractor, Kuwait-based First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co. It was also discovered that OBO continued to use Golden on other projects.
 
The embassy has been plagued by other deficiencies. The electrical system in the dining facility of a nearby guard camp malfunctioned when it was tested. OBO defended its contractor, First Kuwaiti, and blamed Houston-based KBR, Inc., which was hired to operate the facility. Meanwhile, First Kuwaiti said it stood by the quality of its work.
 
In December 2007 OBO’s leader, Retired Major General Charles E. Williams, resigned. His replacement, acting director Richard Shinnick, rejected Williams’ certification that the now-$740 million US embassy in Baghdad was “substantially completed.” Instead, Shinnick began a top-to-bottom review of the project.
 
Shinnick said the State Department hoped that the sprawling embassy complex - originally scheduled to be completed in September 2007 - might be ready by March 2008. But he refused to set a target date because past deadlines had forced a rush to complete the embassy’s defective work. “That's not the message I want to send,” he said.
 
Once completed, the new embassy compound will house more than 1,000 diplomats and military personnel, many of whom live and work at a palace of former president Saddam Hussein that is subject to frequent rocket and mortar attacks - adding urgency to completing the new complex.
 
But problems with the embassy’s firefighting systems continue. In January 2008 a media story revealed that the firefighting systems were defective, and that Shinnick’s predecessor, Williams, rushed to declare the new embassy complex completed and had ignored the concerns of the State Department’s professional fire experts. Shinnick dispatched a fire-safety team to Baghdad after the story broke, and the team found that repairs that experts had urged dating back to August had not been done.
Criminal probe into U.S. Embassy in Iraq construction (by Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers)
State Dept. orders another review of troubled Baghdad embassy (by Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy Newspapers)
 
Security Contract Questioned
Another OBO contractor, EmbSEC, came under scrutiny by the GAO in 2003 after an investigation into the company’s contract revealed several problems. EmbSEC, a joint venture involving RDR, Inc. and BP International, was given a $354 million no-bid contract to install and maintain technical security equipment, such as alarms, cameras and controlled-access equipment for embassies.
 
GAO received a tip through its fraud hotline about the contract, which was awarded without bids from other firms. Other concerns stemmed from the manner in which travel costs were paid by OBO to EmbSEC. GAO concluded that the decision to award the contract on a sole-source basis was improper, and that the government wound up paying more for the contractors’ travel costs than it should have.
 
New Kabul Embassy Construction Faulted
A report by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that work at the new US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, was running behind schedule and over budget. The investigation examined the work by contractor Kellogg, Brown & Root, Inc. (KBR).
 
The report concluded that the contract provided KBR with “limited motivation to complete the project on time and within budget.” OIG also concluded that the contractor failed to comply with the contract’s schedule specification, thus denying OBO the ability to fully oversee the Kabul Embassy Project.
 
The embassy, originally scheduled to open December 2004, began operating in March 2006. Six months later the embassy was the site of a car bombing that killed 16 people.
Suicide Bomber Kills 16 in Kabul Near Embassy (by Carlotta Gall and Abdul Waheed Wafa, New York Times)

Evaluation and Analysis of Cost/Schedule Data Kabul Embassy Compound Project

(OIG) (PDF)

 

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Comments

Alice Hogan 1 week ago
I was just in London where we served at our embassy on Grosvenor Square. Has anyone at OBO taken a look at what our embassy looks like right now? A power washing of the building would go a long way, even if we are planning to move on. There are sandwich wrappings around the Eisenhower statue, surly local guards giving advice at American Citizen services (before one can actually see an American)and all the commemorative statues of Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Reagan, and the Eagle Squadron -- are they to be left behind as we retreat to the hinterlands? Do we plan to replant the Gum tree given as a memorial to the dead of September 11, 2001? Our embassy in Grosvenor Square does not represents the most powerful nation on earth. It did at one time, warts and all, and I was saddened to see it now. P.S. Where does the horse and carriage park when they come to to pick up a new ambassador to present his credentials?
kenneth Gunther 6 months ago
Is there a list of government contractors that have been awarded building contracts from OBO ?I am interested HVAC sheet metal,been all over the world with 20 years experience and all clearance. Thanks Ken Gunther kengunther2004@yahoo.com
Hasan Keskin 7 months ago
We have been the mechanical sub-contractor company for several US Embassy projects like West African countries (Cameroon, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leone),Nepal, Algerai, Turkey, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan etc. You should require a mechanical sub-contractor for your US Embassy projects please contact us for opportunity. Thanks
eric brown 1 year ago
I am looking for info on working overseas as hvac tech. I have 12 years in the industry and i would like to work overseas. If you could contact me at ebro189@yahoo.com it would be greatly appreciated
Gene Knight 1 year ago
Could you please tell us who is doing the Fire alarm repairs at the Embassies now, We would like to return as there fire alarm team. I have been to over 90 embassies. and I miss them all. Thanks Gene and sueann Knight Raeford,NC 910-904-0445
Cordell Beache 1 year ago
Please provide information on overseas consulting in the field of fire protection.
alexandermanikas 2 years ago
im a sheetmetal worker and would for obo ive worked on obo jobs before iraq and indonisa if you have any work please contact me i like the way obo does business thank you
Edward Flores 2 years ago
Can someone guide me to Electrical Contractors that have contracting work for the US Embassies please ? Thank you in advance.
akingbehin o .a 2 years ago
presently am working with us embassy abuja, facilities maintenance department as a mason,i will like your department to furnish me with a course details that can make me to improve on my skills.
Sandor Nyerges 2 years ago
i would like to echo the question asked by mustapha baha back in 2010: in the case of a us government owned building, where can i inquire about a possible sale? in my case the country is different, (not algeria) but the situation is similar: empty apartments whose title document specifies the us government as the owner, has been unoccupied for over ten years and the building is falling into disrepair. the first step is to find out whether the government is willing to consider sellin...

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Founded: 2001
Annual Budget: $1.4 billion
Employees: 918
Official Website: http://www.state.gov/obo/
Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations
Namm, Adam
Ambassador

President Barack Obama has turned to an experienced Latin America hand, Adam E. Namm, to serve as the new ambassador to Ecuador, replacing former ambassador Heather Hodges, who in April 2011 was expelled by the Ecuadorian government after the release by WikiLeaks of a diplomatic cable in which Hodges discussed allegedly corrupt police officials appointed to positions of high command by President Rafael Correa, and even speculated that Correa “must have known” about the corruption.

 
Born circa 1963, Namm is the son of Arnold Namm, the owner of GNP Specialties, and his wife Susan Hammel Namm. He graduated in 1981 from Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. Namm earned an A.B. in International Relations from Brown University circa 1985, and an M.S. in National Security Strategy in 2004 from the National War College, where he wrote a paper analyzing the Spanish Civil War in light of the works of military theorists Carl von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu.
 
Namm began his career at the State Department in 1987. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Namm has served both overseas and stateside. His overseas postings include stints as Management Counselor in Islamabad, Pakistan; Human Resources Officer in Bogota, Colombia; General Services Officer in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; and Consular Officer in Bogota and Santo Domingo. His domestic assignments have included Executive Assistant in the Bureau of Administration, Director of the Office of Allowances, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary for Management, Desk Officer and Post Management Officer in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, and two consecutive assignments at the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), including Director of OBO from April 2009 to September 2011. 
 
Namm speaks Spanish and French.
 
A longtime resident of Arlington, Virginia, in 2006, Namm allowed his name to be used in a New York Times story on rodent extermination; the story detailed Namm’s run-ins with rats, which had pushed up a floorboard in his home and thoroughly frightened a pet hamster.
 
Namm and his wife, Mei Huang, have one daughter.
 
Squeamishly Waging the Rodent War (by Alina Tugend, New York Times)
Ecuador Expels U.S. Ambassador Over WikiLeaks Cable (by Simon Romero, New York Times)
 
 
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Shinnick, Richard
Previous Director, Ad Interim
Richard J. Shinnick served from January 2008 until April 2009 as the acting director for the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operation (OBO)s. Shinnick joined OBO after retiring from the Foreign Service, where he was a Senior Foreign Service Officer, class of Minister Counselor (FE/MC). Recently he served as senior advisor (expert) for the Under Secretary for Management for Special Projects.
 
During his 27-year Foreign Service career, Shinnick served in a variety of positions including principal officer at Milan, executive director of the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, and deputy executive secretary and executive director of the Executive Secretariat. He was also the deputy executive director of the Bureau of European and Canadian Affairs and deputy director for operations of the Foreign Buildings Office, now the Overseas Buildings Operations.
 
Shinnick currently serves as vice chairman of the board for the American Foreign Service Protective Association, an insurance company that provides coverage for 30,000 current and retired Foreign Service, State Department, Defense Department and other Executive Branch personnel and their families.
 
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