Afghanistan:

Embassy Construction Cost and Schedule Have Increased, and Further Facilities Planning Is Needed

GAO-15-410: Published: May 19, 2015. Publicly Released: May 19, 2015.

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Michael J. Courts
(202) 512-8980
courtsm@gao.gov

 

David J. Wise
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wised@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

Cost and schedule have increased for the Kabul embassy construction project, in part due to incomplete cost and risk assessment. Cost for the 2009 and 2010 contracts has increased by about 27 percent, from $625.4 million to $792.9 million, and is likely to increase further. Projected completion has been delayed over 3 years to fall 2017. The Department of State (State) did not follow its cost containment and risk assessment policies, resulting in lost opportunities to mitigate risks. These risks, such as delays in the sequencing of the two contracts, eventually materialized, increasing cost and extending schedule. Unless State follows its policy, it may be unable to avoid or mitigate risks to cost and schedule on future projects.

Architect's Rendering of Embassy Compound upon Project Completion

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Since 2002, State has built over $100 million in temporary buildings (intended for no more than 5 years' use) to meet space needs on-compound but has no security standards tailored to those facilities. On completing the project in 2017, all temporary facilities will be 5 to 10 years old, and their continued use is likely. Without security standards or other guidance to guide temporary facility construction in conflict environments, State inconsistently applied alternative security measures that resulted in insufficient and different levels of security for temporary offices and housing, as well as increased cost and extended schedules. Without temporary facility security standards or guidance, future construction in conflict environments could encounter similar problems.

State's lack of a strategic facilities plan and policies governing such planning has led to coordination challenges in addressing the embassy's future facility needs. Industry standards cite the value of plans that comprehensively assess existing facilities, identify needs, and document decisions on meeting those needs. In Kabul, however, State constructed a guard facility without proper design review or applying for a building permit, leading to fire safety deficiencies that State corrected at extra cost. Finally, State formally assigns responsibility for strategic facilities planning but lacks policy that governs implementation of such planning. State intends to make additional facility investments to address future facility needs. Without a strategic facilities plan and policy to guide its development, coordination to address these needs will continue to be difficult.

Why GAO Did This Study

Since re-opening in 2002, the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, has experienced a dramatic increase in staffing, followed by a gradual drawdown. State has invested or plans to invest a total of $2.17 billion in U.S. facilities to address current and projected space needs. State awarded two contracts in 2009 and 2010 to construct additional on-compound housing and office facilities. State partially terminated one contract for the convenience of the U.S. government, and expanded the construction requirements of the second, affecting cost and schedule. State's Bureau of Overseas Building Operations is responsible for the planning, design, and construction of U.S. embassies. This report updates and expands upon GAO's previous work.

This report examines (1) the extent to which construction cost and schedule have changed and why, (2) State's use of temporary facilities on-compound, and (3) State's planning for projected embassy facility needs. GAO evaluated construction planning and contract documents and interviewed State and contractor officials in Washington, D.C., and Kabul.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that State (1) adhere to its cost containment and risk assessment policies, (2) consider establishing security standards or guidance for temporary buildings in conflict zones, (3) develop a strategic facilities plan for Kabul, and (4) clarify its strategic facilities and master planning policy. State concurred with the first, third, and fourth recommendations and partially concurred with the second.

For more information, contact Michael J. Courts at (202) 512-8980 or courtsm@gao.gov or David J. Wise at (202) 512-5731 or wised@gao.gov.

 

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State concurred with our recommendation, and in a September 2015 letter to the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said it would take steps to address it. State noted that its Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations' (OBO) was, at that time, revising current policies to establish compliance requirements and promote project efficiencies, thus ensuring better adherence to State's policies. Specifically, OBO updated its cost containment policy in July 2015, and as of September 2015 was updating its standard operating procedure for risk assessment. According to OBO, funding for its own planned construction has been delayed, therefore it has not yet applied any cost containment studies or risk assessments to its planned Kabul projects. However, OBO did require State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) to put its own Kabul construction projects through a cost containment study as per OBO's policy. This study, which was completed in August 2015, proposed a series of 39 improvements in these projects that could potentially save immediate construction costs or minimize long-term life-cycle costs. OBO and DS evaluated these proposals in October 2015 and accepted 15 of them. The estimated potential savings of these accepted proposals, if all were to be implemented, was about $11 million.

    Recommendation: To maintain State's adherence to construction risk management policy, guide future construction of temporary facilities, strengthen coordination efforts to address facility needs of the U.S. embassy in Kabul, and clarify strategic planning policy, the Secretary of State should ensure existing cost containment and risk assessment policies are followed in future Kabul construction projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: State partially concurred with our recommendation to consider establishing minimum security standards or other guidance for the construction of temporary structures, especially those used in conflict environments. State does not support separate standards for temporary structures, reiterating that it aims to meet Overseas Security Policy Board security standards in all environments. Where this is not possible, State asserts it works to meet the intent of these standards through alternative security mitigation measures via its "waivers and exceptions" process. However, State does believe that there is value in documenting standard operating procedures and best practices associated with the deployment and protection of temporary structures in high-threat and conflict environments. State noted that while such documentation would not constitute security standards and would not circumvent risk management integral to its waivers and exceptions process, it would provide templates from which to base the design of future projects in exigent environments. As of April 2016, State was developing additional guidance relating to physical security systems/measures, such as hardened alternative trailer systems (HATS), surface-mounted anti-ram barriers, and anti-climb wall toppings. This updated guidance will be published in the Physical Security Handbook and not in the Overseas Security Policy Board standards. Coordination, clearance, and publication of this guidance is expected to take one calendar year. When we can confirm this action, we will update this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To maintain State's adherence to construction risk management policy, guide future construction of temporary facilities, strengthen coordination efforts to address facility needs of the U.S. embassy in Kabul, and clarify strategic planning policy, the Secretary of State should consider establishing minimum security standards or other guidance for the construction of temporary structures, especially those used in conflict environments.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: State concurred with our recommendation to develop a Kabul strategic facilities plan. According to State, OBO continues to work with post and State stakeholders to formalize current and future embassy needs into a plan that outlines existing facilities, identifies embassy needs, establishes gaps between facilities and needs, and documents decisions on meeting those needs. When we can confirm this action we will update this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To maintain State's adherence to construction risk management policy, guide future construction of temporary facilities, strengthen coordination efforts to address facility needs of the U.S. embassy in Kabul, and clarify strategic planning policy, the Secretary of State should develop a Kabul strategic facilities plan. Such a plan should comprehensively outline existing facilities, identify embassy needs, establish gaps between facilities and needs, and document decisions on meeting those needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State concurred with our recommendation, and in response established a new policy and procedures directive (P&PD) on its Master Planning Program establishing guidance for the development of analytical, long-range planning documents to manage the overseas real estate portfolio. This P&PD provides the key elements for on-compound master plan development, advance planning for new construction/major renovations, and for New Embassy Compound alternatives analysis.

    Recommendation: To maintain State's adherence to construction risk management policy, guide future construction of temporary facilities, strengthen coordination efforts to address facility needs of the U.S. embassy in Kabul, and clarify strategic planning policy, the Secretary of State should establish policy and procedure directives governing the definition, content, and conduct of post-wide strategic facilities planning and master planning.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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