New Embassy Compounds:

State Faces Challenges in Sizing Facilities and Providing for Operations and Maintenance Requirements

GAO-10-689: Published: Jul 20, 2010. Publicly Released: Jul 20, 2010.

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In response to the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies, the Department of State (State) embarked on a multiyear, multibillion dollar program to replace insecure and dilapidated diplomatic facilities. Since 2001, State has constructed 52 new embassy compounds (NECs) under this program, and moved over 21,000 U.S. government personnel into more secure and safe facilities. GAO was asked to examine (1) the extent to which new facilities match the space and functionality needs of overseas missions and State's actions to address space and functionality challenges; and (2) operations and maintenance challenges at these new facilities and State's steps to address them. GAO analyzed staffing data and other documentation for 44 NECs built from 2001 to 2009 and interviewed State headquarters and embassy officials at 22 of these 44 NECs to obtain information on their functionality and operations and maintenance issues.

State has located nearly one-quarter of overseas staff in NECs, which posts said are an improvement over older facilities. However, NECs do not fully meet the space and functionality needs of overseas missions. Current staffing levels exceed the originally-built desk--or office--space at over half of the 44 NECs GAO analyzed. Post management has dealt with space limitations by converting spaces, like conference rooms, into offices, but 4 posts have had to retain space outside the compound for staff that could not fit in the NECs. Also, officials at almost all of the 22 NECs that GAO reviewed in depth reported some spaces, like consular affairs spaces, did not fully meet their functional needs. According to State officials, it is difficult to predict changing foreign policy priorities that can affect staffing levels, and the process for planning NECs has been unable to fully account for these changes. Budget constraints also affected decisions about the size of NECs and types of features provided. State has taken some actions to improve NEC sizing, but does not have sufficient flexibility in its staffing projection and design processes to better address sizing challenges. To address problems with functionality, State implemented a lessons learned program to analyze issues in completed NECs and modify design criteria for future NECs, but State has not completed, in a timely manner, planned evaluations that are designed to identify such issues. While NECs are state-of-the-art buildings, they have presented operations and maintenance challenges, and the larger size and greater complexity of NECs, compared to facilities they replaced, have resulted in increased operations and maintenance costs. In 2010, State developed its first long-range maintenance plan that identifies $3.7 billion in maintenance requirements over 6 years for all overseas facilities, but it does not include time frames for implementing identified maintenance projects or address increased operating costs. Problems with testing, or "commissioning," new building systems have contributed to problems with building systems that do not function as they should, causing higher maintenance costs. State strengthened its commissioning process, though this change only applies to future NECs and does not address problems at existing NECs. Further, State does not currently recommission--or retest--NECs to ensure they are operating as intended. In addition, more than half of the 22 NECs that GAO reviewed in detail experienced problems with some building systems, resulting in the need for premature repair and replacement. Through its lessons learned program, State has changed some design criteria for future NECs to avoid problems with building systems. Finally, State has had problems hiring and training personnel who have the technical skills necessary to manage the complex NEC systems. State has taken initial steps to improve its staff hiring and training, but does not have an overall plan to establish its NEC human resource needs and the associated costs.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the operations of the extensive U.S. program that provides for new embassy compounds around the world, the Secretary of State should expand on future editions of the LROMP to include reporting on operating costs to allow for a more complete assessment of the costs to maintain and operate NECs.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Open

    Comments: State said that the report contains helpful input about its program to build New Embassy Compounds (NECs) which State will use to further its efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. State concurred with our principle findings, conclusions, and recommendations. State said it would work to identify time frames for implementing the Long-Range Overseas Maintenance Plan (LROMP) maintenance projects, develop a system to compile and report on operating costs, and undertake human resource planning to hire and train local maintenance staff. State also said it is currently conducting post-occupancy evaluations at three posts and plans to evaluate at least six more by the end of 2010. In addition, State said it is conducting two pilot recommissioning studies, and plans to conduct two more studies in fiscal year 2011 if funding is available. GAO continues to monitor State's efforts to implement the recommendations.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the operations of the extensive U.S. program that provides for new embassy compounds around the world, the Secretary of State should identify time frames for implementing the maintenance projects that are outlined in the Long-Range Overseas Maintenance Plan (LROMP).

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Open

    Comments: State said that the report contains helpful input about its program to build New Embassy Compounds (NECs) which State will use to further its efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. State concurred with our principle findings, conclusions, and recommendations. State said it would work to identify time frames for implementing the Long-Range Overseas Maintenance Plan (LROMP) maintenance projects, develop a system to compile and report on operating costs, and undertake human resource planning to hire and train local maintenance staff. State also said it is currently conducting post-occupancy evaluations at three posts and plans to evaluate at least six more by the end of 2010. In addition, State said it is conducting two pilot recommissioning studies, and plans to conduct two more studies in fiscal year 2011 if funding is available. GAO continues to monitor State's efforts to implement the recommendations.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the operations of the extensive U.S. program that provides for new embassy compounds around the world, the Secretary of State should develop a plan to recommission those NECs completed before 2008 to, for example, resolve any problems posts may still have with building systems, and ensure that the operating costs are not being incurred unnecessarily as a result of building systems that are not operating as efficiently as intended.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Open

    Comments: State said that the report contains helpful input about its program to build New Embassy Compounds (NECs) which State will use to further its efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. State concurred with our principle findings, conclusions, and recommendations. State said it would work to identify time frames for implementing the Long-Range Overseas Maintenance Plan (LROMP) maintenance projects, develop a system to compile and report on operating costs, and undertake human resource planning to hire and train local maintenance staff. State also said it is currently conducting post-occupancy evaluations at three posts and plans to evaluate at least six more by the end of 2010. In addition, State said it is conducting two pilot recommissioning studies, and plans to conduct two more studies in fiscal year 2011 if funding is available. GAO continues to monitor State's efforts to implement the recommendations.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the operations of the extensive U.S. program that provides for new embassy compounds around the world, the Secretary of State should ensure that Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) conducts post-occupancy evaluations of completed NECs as planned.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Open

    Comments: State said that the report contains helpful input about its program to build New Embassy Compounds (NECs) which State will use to further its efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. State concurred with our principle findings, conclusions, and recommendations. State said it would work to identify time frames for implementing the Long-Range Overseas Maintenance Plan (LROMP) maintenance projects, develop a system to compile and report on operating costs, and undertake human resource planning to hire and train local maintenance staff. State also said it is currently conducting post-occupancy evaluations at three posts and plans to evaluate at least six more by the end of 2010. In addition, State said it is conducting two pilot recommissioning studies, and plans to conduct two more studies in fiscal year 2011 if funding is available. GAO continues to monitor State's efforts to implement the recommendations.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the operations of the extensive U.S. program that provides for new embassy compounds around the world, the Secretary of State should take steps to improve the process for determining the appropriate size for an NEC, including reassessing the analytical basis for projecting future staffing levels and determining how much growth space is allocated.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Open

    Comments: State said that the report contains helpful input about its program to build New Embassy Compounds (NECs) which State will use to further its efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. State concurred with our principle findings, conclusions, and recommendations. State said it would work to identify time frames for implementing the Long-Range Overseas Maintenance Plan (LROMP) maintenance projects, develop a system to compile and report on operating costs, and undertake human resource planning to hire and train local maintenance staff. State also said it is currently conducting post-occupancy evaluations at three posts and plans to evaluate at least six more by the end of 2010. In addition, State said it is conducting two pilot recommissioning studies, and plans to conduct two more studies in fiscal year 2011 if funding is available. GAO continues to monitor State's efforts to implement the recommendations.

    Recommendation: In order to strengthen the operations of the extensive U.S. program that provides for new embassy compounds around the world, the Secretary of State should develop a human resource plan that addresses the requirements and cost implications for hiring required NEC facilities maintenance staff and sufficiently training the local maintenance staff.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Open

    Comments: State said that the report contains helpful input about its program to build New Embassy Compounds (NECs) which State will use to further its efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. State concurred with our principle findings, conclusions, and recommendations. State said it would work to identify time frames for implementing the Long-Range Overseas Maintenance Plan (LROMP) maintenance projects, develop a system to compile and report on operating costs, and undertake human resource planning to hire and train local maintenance staff. State also said it is currently conducting post-occupancy evaluations at three posts and plans to evaluate at least six more by the end of 2010. In addition, State said it is conducting two pilot recommissioning studies, and plans to conduct two more studies in fiscal year 2011 if funding is available. GAO continues to monitor State's efforts to implement the recommendations.

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