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house Bill H.R. 4969

Should U.S. Embassies be Built Using a Standard Design?

Argument in favor

The cost of building and maintaining the security of U.S. embassies has increased since the OBO moved away from using a standard embassy design. Given the frequency with which U.S. diplomats and personnel are targeted overseas, it’s important to ensure that our embassies are secure — and a more standard design can help achieve that aim.

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09/03/2018
I will always vote in favor of expanding, reinforcing, sufficiently staffing, and protecting American Embassies throughout the globe. Foreign Service Officers, diplomats, and Ambassadors are extremely valuable to the US and represent/speak for all Americans in their respective countries of assignment. The catastrophe in Benghazi, Libya should’ve been a wake up call to everyone that our diplomats are sometimes in as much danger as our heroes in the Armed Forces.
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Gopin2020's Opinion
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09/05/2018
Yes they should. Using a standard layout that can be adapted to the architectural layout of where they are located; including security etc into those designs. A modular prebuilt design would save untold money for the taxpayers. Using Trumps way of getting the best bang for the buck instead of cronyism, awarding building contracts based on the best design, security, not just the cheapest one in my opinion is how we should do it. #MAGA and Keep America Great
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Herbert 's Opinion
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09/05/2018
No. I think all Americans want their embassy staff to be safe. By the same token, we need our embassies to blend in with local surroundings and our architectural style should reflect this. We should hire architects capable of doing both. Otherwise, we just perpetuate the Ugly American Syndrome.
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Argument opposed

The design of U.S. embassies isn’t just a security matter: the aesthetic appeal of these buildings makes an important statement about American values to foreign citizens who walk past or enter them. Merely reducing embassies to uninspired concrete boxes that don’t take their contexts into account reduces their value as tools of American cultural diplomacy abroad.

burrkitty's Opinion
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09/05/2018
Break the security at one and you have a method for all the rest. Don’t endanger our diplomats with this stupidity. Embassies and diplomacy are worth spending money on. This is pocket change anyway. Take it out of DOD’s pocket. They have so much money they can’t even account for it all.
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D's Opinion
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09/05/2018
The interiors can be designed with the same furnishings, flooring, carpets etc but the exteriors should blend in to some degree with local architecture, and culture.
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Donald's Opinion
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09/05/2018
Again the "one size fits all" mentality is not in the best interest of the United States. U.S. embassies should reflect the architecture of the country in which they are built to present a more acceptable front to the local citizens. Let architecture present the U.S. in a better light.
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What is House Bill H.R. 4969?

This bill — known as the Improving Embassy Design and Security Act of 2018 — would require the State Department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) to return to using Standard Embassy Design — a building process wherein each new embassy and consulate starts with a standard design and keeps customization to a minimum. Any deviations from the standard design would require the involvement of the Secretary of State and notification to the appropriate Congressional committees.

The Secretary of State would be required to report performance evaluation measures for the OBO to the appropriate Congressional committees. These evaluation measures would have to be in line with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) “Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government.”

Impact

U.S. embassies; Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations; Secretary of State; and appropriate Congressional committees.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 4969

$2.00 Million
The CBO estimates that implementing this bill would cost less than $500,000 on an annual basis, and a total of $2 million over the 2019-2023 period.

More Information

In-Depth: Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) introduced this bill to streamline embassy and consulate design and construction by prioritizing buildings’ security and cutting unnecessary waste in designing and constructing American facilities abroad:

“The attacks on U.S. buildings in Benghazi, Beirut, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam remind us of the dangers our diplomatic and military service members abroad face every day. We owe it to our brave men and women overseas to provide them with safe and functional workplaces in a timely fashion so we can prevent attacks like these in the future. Unfortunately, Design Excellence, implemented by the Obama administration to construct embassies overseas, shifted away from that core focus in favor of complex architectural design and costly building materials. My bill prioritizes the security and quality of our diplomatic facilities, while also cutting bloated costs and inefficient processes in embassy design and construction.”

Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) praises this bill for helping make U.S. embassies and consulates more accessible to people with disabilities:

“As markers of American ideals around the world, embassies and consulates must not only be built to meet the needs of security and functionality but also accessibility. The U.S. government must continue to build infrastructure that is accessible to people with disabilities and recognize the importance of doing so to our diplomatic and international development priorities. Accessible embassies help promote the employment of Americans with disabilities in diplomatic posts and reinforce U.S. leadership in advancing the rights of people with disabilities around the world.”

In 2010, then-Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) argued that the design and aesthetic appeal of American embassies overseas are important signals of what America stands for. At that time, Sen. Kerry called for excellent design, modern security requirements, sustainability, and energy efficiency to all be goals of the State Department’s embassy designs:

“The design of America's embassies overseas might seem at best a mere question of bricks and mortar or a relatively arcane issue in a time of big challenges. But as we wage a global battle for hearts and minds, embassies can send a powerful message to people everywhere about what America stands for. As the first impression many foreign people have of the United States, embassies can be another force in our arsenal to convey who we really are, to bring allies closer to us, and, yes, even to make us safer… We need to think creatively about how we can create embassies that protect our diplomats but also project our values… Under Secretary of State Colin Powell's leadership, the department embarked on a construction program that has led to the completion of 71 new facilities and moved over 20,000 people to safer and more secure buildings since 2001. Although this effort significantly improved the safety of our diplomats, unique architectural wonders built to last were replaced by a standardized ‘embassy in a box.’ They are uniform in appearance and quickly assembled fortresses designed to meet security specifications in one of four sizes -- small, medium, large and extra-large, epitomized by our supersized embassy in Baghdad. Congress, too, got into the act, putting speed and cost ahead of our support for the kinds of iconic embassies we built during the Cold War. This contributed to a system where embassy projects are evaluated first and foremost for cost efficiency, with design and location relegated to the status of afterthought. Such designs and locations are sometimes necessary, but our Foreign Service officers will be the first to tell you that they make it much more difficult to reach deep into societies to conduct real diplomacy.”

This bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously and currently has the support of three cosponsors, including one Republican and two Democrats.


Of NoteA senior-level State Department review board recently concluded its investigation of the “sonic attacks” in November 2017 which left a number of U.S. diplomats suffering from a range of symptoms, including severe headaches, nausea, and hearing loss. On August 30, 2018, the board released a summary of their inquiry and recommendations after a four-month review of the circumstances leading up to the incidents at the U.S. Embassy in China. After interviewing over 100 embassy officials and staff members, the review board members found that “security systems and procedures were overall adequate and properly implemented.”

Attacks on U.S. diplomatic targets are a constant threat. From 2001-2009, 20 separate deadly attacks were carried out against U.S. embassies, consulates, and traveling U.S. personnel. A State Department report covering significant attacks against U.S. diplomatic facilities and personnel from 2007-2016 is 55 pages long despite being not comprehensive — giving a sense of the extent to which U.S. diplomatic missions and their personnel are under threat at any given time.

In 2011, the Department of State’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) established an Excellence approach in response to concerns regarding the aesthetics, quality, location, and functionality of embassies built using its Standard Embassy Design (SED). Under the Excellence approach, OBO now directly contracts with design firms to develop customized embassy designs before contracting for construction. This approach gives OBO greater design control, which the office believes will improve embassies’ appearance in representing the United States, functionality, quality, and operating costs. However, in 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that after moving to the Excellence approach, OBO had yet to implement a process for evaluating the success and cost-effectiveness of the new design paradigm.

Since the OBO’s move to the Excellence approach, Congress has found the approach to have:

  • Increased the cost of building new embassies and consulates,

  • Delayed the move of thousands of staff from facilities that do not meet current security standards to new, secure facilities,

  • Exacerbated pre-existing deficiencies in the OBO’s program management,

  • Played a role in reducing competition for capital construction projects, and

  • Complicated the pursuit of the State Department’s security requirements for its embassies

In 2014, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) charged that the State Department’s move to Excellence design had produced prettier, but less secure, embassies that “look better and cost more… they may be visually attractive but the new design process does not prioritize security. It prioritizes appearance."


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: iStock.com / YinYang)

AKA

Embassy Security Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2019

Official Title

To improve the design and construction of diplomatic posts, and for other purposes.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on Foreign Relations
  • The house Passed September 5th, 2018
    Passed by Voice Vote
      house Committees
      Committee on Foreign Affairs
    IntroducedFebruary 7th, 2018

Log in or create an account to see how your Reps voted!
    I will always vote in favor of expanding, reinforcing, sufficiently staffing, and protecting American Embassies throughout the globe. Foreign Service Officers, diplomats, and Ambassadors are extremely valuable to the US and represent/speak for all Americans in their respective countries of assignment. The catastrophe in Benghazi, Libya should’ve been a wake up call to everyone that our diplomats are sometimes in as much danger as our heroes in the Armed Forces.
    Like (5)
    Follow
    Share
    Break the security at one and you have a method for all the rest. Don’t endanger our diplomats with this stupidity. Embassies and diplomacy are worth spending money on. This is pocket change anyway. Take it out of DOD’s pocket. They have so much money they can’t even account for it all.
    Like (38)
    Follow
    Share
    The interiors can be designed with the same furnishings, flooring, carpets etc but the exteriors should blend in to some degree with local architecture, and culture.
    Like (36)
    Follow
    Share
    Again the "one size fits all" mentality is not in the best interest of the United States. U.S. embassies should reflect the architecture of the country in which they are built to present a more acceptable front to the local citizens. Let architecture present the U.S. in a better light.
    Like (33)
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    Share
    They need to blend in with local architecture
    Like (16)
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    I’m glad our Washington politicians are focusing on very important issues like embassy designs and not on healthcare, education, or infrastructure.
    Like (9)
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    Even if we suppose that security is the only objective, the threat environment of each location (even among multiple locations in the same country) is unique. Shoehorning all embassies into a standard design ignores the basic premise of understanding what you are trying to prevent. This is all basic architecture.
    Like (4)
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    Yes they should. Using a standard layout that can be adapted to the architectural layout of where they are located; including security etc into those designs. A modular prebuilt design would save untold money for the taxpayers. Using Trumps way of getting the best bang for the buck instead of cronyism, awarding building contracts based on the best design, security, not just the cheapest one in my opinion is how we should do it. #MAGA and Keep America Great
    Like (4)
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    Unnecessary micromanagement that will hurt the US long term as embassies fail to integrate with surrounding buildings or require destruction of existing structures to meet these requirements.
    Like (4)
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    burrkitty has it right. Part of station security is differentiation. Standardizing is good in cars and household products but not where security take on a whole different meaning. The thing is that the U.S. doesn’t pay enough attention to security. Remember Benghazi? A request was made for enhanced and improvements in security before the Ambassador was killed. Congress refused to approve funding.
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    This bill would make our embassies more valuable to attack’s if someone discovered a flaw. This bill needs to be reworked.
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    It’s stupid.
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    Smells fishy. Is there a certain contractor being promised the business? Also the Moscow embassy will have quite different needs than say the Barbados embassy.
    Like (3)
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    There are far more important things our lawmakers should be working on.
    Like (2)
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    They should blend in with the existing buildings of a country but be extremely secure to keep people safe.
    Like (2)
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    No. I think all Americans want their embassy staff to be safe. By the same token, we need our embassies to blend in with local surroundings and our architectural style should reflect this. We should hire architects capable of doing both. Otherwise, we just perpetuate the Ugly American Syndrome.
    Like (2)
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    Every embassy should different for security purposes
    Like (2)
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    Safety and security and accessibility first, energy efficiency and environmental design second, modular third, cost fourth, aesthetics fifth
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    Different environments call for different designs
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    I believe they should blend in with the local architecture and be 3xtremely safe.
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