REP. JASON CHAFFETZ SAYS THE EMBASSY “DESIGN EXCELLENCE” INITIATIVE IS MISMANAGED AND PUTS U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIALS IN DANGER, IN A CBS NEWS INVESTIGATION
CHAFFETZ TELLS CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT NANCY CORDES: “WE DON'T HAVE TIME TO MAKE SURE THAT THE BUILDING AND THE FLOWERS LOOK MORE PRETTY - WE HAVE TO MAKE SURE THAT THESE PEOPLE ARE SAFE AND SECURE AND CAN DO THEIR JOBS”
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said that the U.S. State Department embassy “design excellence” initiative not only costs significantly more time and money than previous embassy designs, but may also put State Department officials abroad in danger, in a CBS News investigation that was broadcast today, June 4, 2014, on CBS THIS MORNING (7:00-9:00 AM).
“These people live in very dangerous parts of the world,” Rep. Chaffetz said. “We don't have time to make sure that the building and the flowers look more pretty. We have to make sure that these people are safe and secure and can do their jobs.”
Rep. Chaffetz also weighed in on an embassy building project in Papua New Guinea, the price of which has increased from $50 million to $211 million since it began. Rep. Chaffetz told CBS News Correspondent Nancy Cordes that the project is plagued by “poor total mismanagement from top to bottom.”
Patrick F. Kennedy, U.S. State Department Under Secretary for Management, told CBS News that increased costs are simply a given in construction. “When you have a significant change in the scope of a project, it is logical that the price would go up,” Kennedy said.
“We have reviewed our processes and feel very, very comfortable that our use of the design initiative gets us the security we need and the functionality we need at the best possible price,” Kennedy added.
A transcript of the investigation is below.
NANCY CORDES: Even Secretary of State John Kerry once described U.S. embassies as ugly. The “design excellence” initiative was put in place in 2009 to change that – to tailor the design of embassies to their location and the climate while maximizing safety. But critics say the approach is slowing construction and driving up costs. This stunning modern glass structure, nicknamed “The Cube,” will house the new U.S. embassy in London when it opens in early 2017. But six months into construction, CBS News has learned the $1 billion project is already $100 million more expensive than initial estimates, partly because the unique blast-proof glass at the heart of the design. It’s made in Europe and then shipped under guard to the U.S. for framing before being sent back to England for installation.
PATRICK F. KENNEDY, U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT UNDER SECRETARY FOR MANAGEMENT: Sometimes you move things, sometimes you don't move things.
Patrick Kennedy is the State Department’s Under Secretary for Management.
CORDES: Why use this glass design at all? We heard that the State Department's value engineering assessment team recommended using a different glass design because this one was too costly.
KENNEDY: I have not seen that report. I'll be glad to go look at it. However, the contract arrangements we have with the architects, the engineering and construction firm drive to a fixed price. This is a good deal.
U.S. embassies weren’t always so chic. In the Bush years, the State Department’s building office had standard small, medium and large designs for most embassies and consulates, like the buildings in Johannesburg, South Africa and Bulgaria. But when President Obama took office, State Department officials decided the standard design didn’t reflect America’s culture and values. Buildings like those in Brunei and Guangzhou, China, utilize the design excellence approach.
KENNEDY: Just three different sizes is not how diplomacy works, it is an infinite range.
Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz is a top Republican on the House Government Oversight Committee. He says these embassies now take longer to build.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R-UTAH): These people live in very dangerous parts of the world. We don't have time to make sure that the building and the flowers look more pretty, we have to make sure that these people are safe and secure and can do their jobs.
He’s visited new embassy sites like Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, where a decision to expand the proposed embassy forced the State Department to scrap the entire design and start over. The project estimate has ballooned from $50 million to $211 million, and according to an internal State Department document there has been a “termination of the current work and shuttering of the site until a new construction contract is awarded.”
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R-UTAH): That's just poor total mismanagement from top to bottom.
Under Secretary Kennedy argues the State Department’s money is being well spent.
KENNEDY: When you have a significant change in the scope of a project, it is logical that the price would go up.
But security is also a concern. After the attack on the Benghazi consulate, the State Department commissioned an internal security review. It warned the slower pace of construction could leave “more personnel exposed in inadequate facilities for longer periods of time,” and found “no evidence of a cost-benefit analysis supporting this new design excellence initiative.” Grant Green, a former State Department official, oversaw the report.
GRANT GREEN, FORMER U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT UNDERSECRETARY FOR MANAGEMENT: 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 who are waiting for their embassy to be built.
Mr. Kennedy disagrees with the report’s findings.
KENNEDY: We have reviewed our processes and feel very, very comfortable that our use of the design initiative gets us the security we need and the functionality we need at the best possible price.
Congressman Chaffetz has called for a hearing on this issue later this month. And the question here is, is there a happy medium between the cookie cutter embassies of the past and more beautiful embassies that are more attractive but also more complicated to design and maintain.
Click here to watch the video clip.
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Chris Licht is the Vice President of Programming, CBS News, and Executive Producer of CBS THIS MORNING.
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