Embassy Construction:

Better Long-term Planning Will Enhance Program Decision-making

GAO-01-11: Published: Jan 22, 2001. Publicly Released: Jan 22, 2001.

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The State Department has determined that about 80 percent of overseas U.S. diplomatic facilities lack adequate security and may be vulnerable to terrorist attack. In September 1998, State expanded its capital construction program to accelerate replacing its most vulnerable embassies and consulates by acquiring sites and preparing plans at 10 priority locations. This report summarizes (1) the status of the 10 priority embassy and consulate construction projects and (2) State's plans for the overall construction program. As of November 2000, seven projects are in the construction phase. The remaining three projects are on hold pending agreement between State and Congress about the Department's construction proposals. Although State envisions a long-term, multi-billion dollar program and has ranked more than 180 facilities it may need to replace, it has not prepared a long-term capital construction plan that identifies (1) proposed construction project's cost estimates and schedules and (2) estimated annual funding requirements for the overall program.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congressional action is not necessary. State has prepared a long range capital plan consistent with the recommendation. The plan is part of State's efforts to restructure its Office of Overseas Buildings Operations, which includes the formation of a planning and development office.

    Matter: State indicated that it does not plan to implement GAO's recommendation to prepare, and does not see the merits of, a long-term capital plan for its multiyear, multibillion-dollar program to replace embassies and consulates. In view of the State Department's position, Congress may wish to consider requiring that State prepare such a plan, consistent with GAO's recommendation, to assist Congress in considering State's requests for program authorizations and appropriations and for conducting program oversight.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In August 2001, State completed an integrated five-year capital program plan designed to explicitly define and justify projects proposed in each budget cycle. According to State, the plan will reverse the previous operating focus of the Department where funding had driven planning to a new focus where planning will drive funding. State believes that the plan should yield a number of benefits to the Congress, OMB, and the Department, including better information for decision making and more accountability for results.

    Recommendation: To enhance management and decisionmaking regarding the replacement of embassies and consulates that are vulnerable to terrorist attack, the Secretary of State should prepare and present to Congress a long-term capital construction plan that identifies proposed construction projects and their estimated costs; and when the Department plans to start and complete site acquisition, design, and construction. This plan should cover at least five years and be updated annually. It should be modified periodically as funding decisions are made and cost estimates and building schedules are revised, as well as to adjust to key management factors that could potentially influence program implementation, such as program staffing and private industry supply capacity and other significant factors that may affect construction requirements and priorities, including future decisions concerning right-sizing of overseas posts. Recognizing that precise estimates cannot be easily made in the later years, GAO nevertheless believes that State's plan should include notional estimates of the overall program cost and duration, including estimated annual funding requirements over the life of the program.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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