f_0022605_18597

f_0022605_18597 - Constructive Diplomacy: The US Department...

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The Ambassadors REVIEW 24 Constructive Diplomacy: The US Department of State’s Overseas Building Program Adam E. Namm Acting Director, Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations United States Department of State braham Lincoln appropriately described the role of official buildings in the national consciousness when, challenged about the cost of constructing the Capitol dome during the Civil War, he observed, “When the people see the dome rising, it will be a sign that we intend the union to go on.” While the facilities constructed by the Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) are on foreign land, their role in announcing to the world that the United States is a presence of stability, reliability, and permanence is as valuable a symbol of our democracy as the many official buildings that fly the flag in the United States. OBO traces its origins to the Foreign Service Building Commission, which was created in 1926 under the Porter Act as a result of public outrage over the state of American posts overseas. Several significant events have propelled periods of rapid change in OBO and its predecessor organizations. Following the attack on the US Embassy in Beirut in 1983, the Inman Commission charged the then Office of Foreign Buildings Operations with replacing embassies and consulates that failed to meet basic security standards. A lack of appropriate sites and funding resulted in the Department completing less than a quarter of the planned Inman projects. Fifteen years later, following the tragic bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, the Secretary of State formed the Overseas Presence Advisory Panel to study America’s profile abroad and the condition of the Department’s facilities. The Panel’s final report made both broad and specific recommendations for the future of the Department’s building program. In its review, the Panel reported on unsafe, overcrowded, deteriorating, and “shockingly shabby” conditions at a number of US embassies and consulates. Among the observations was a finding that over 85 percent of the diplomatic facilities abroad were vulnerable to future attacks. The panel’s report led to the 1999 enactment of the Secure Embassy Construction and Counterterrorism Act (SECCA), which codified security requirements such as 100 feet of setback between the building and street. Among the actions taken by the Department was the elevation of the Office of Foreign Buildings Operations to the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations. The newly designated Bureau was tasked with replacing more than 180 aging embassies that did not meet all security standards, a project without precedent in Department history. To achieve the goal, the Department worked closely with the Office of Management and Budget and the Congress to ensure that a reliable funding commitment was put in place. A
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f_0022605_18597 - Constructive Diplomacy: The US Department...

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