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State Department finds funding for building repairs lagging

Aug. 11, 2010 - 06:00AM   |  
By TIM KAUFFMAN   |   Comments
Without more funding, the State Department will be unable to address most of its pressing repair needs, potentially putting employees at risk, said Jay Hicks, management director of planning and real estate at State's Bureau of Overseas Building Operations.
Without more funding, the State Department will be unable to address most of its pressing repair needs, potentially putting employees at risk, said Jay Hicks, management director of planning and real estate at State's Bureau of Overseas Building Operations. (AFP/Getty Images)

The State Department has a $3.7 billion backlog in building maintenance needs.

Funding for building new embassies has increased an average 15 percent per year between 1999 and 2009. Yet maintenance funding has increased less than 5 percent annually on average during the same period, according to State's first Long Range Overseas Maintenance Plan, completed earlier this year.

Without more funding, State will be unable to address most of its pressing repair needs, potentially putting employees at risk, said Jay Hicks, management director of planning and real estate at State's Bureau of Overseas Building Operations.

"The safety and security of our staff is equally dependent on maintenance funding as the original money to build the facilities," Hicks said in an interview. "It's not only the physical security threat overseas. It's basic life safety that every employee in every government building should have."

State has identified more than 3,500 projects totaling $3.7 billion that it would like to complete between now and fiscal 2015. That's nearly three times the amount State received for maintenance and repair needs during the past decade.

Projects range from basic upgrades such as painting and weather stripping to major overhauls of offices or living quarters.

Major renovations typically are planned for facilities State doesn't intend to replace. For instance, State's plans include a $22 million renovation of one building on the 14-acre campus of the embassy compound in Sao Paulo, Brazil, which State acquired in 2001.

In some cases, State must repair buildings even though plans call for moving to new facilities. For example, State plans to build a new embassy compound in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, because of security concerns at the existing embassy. But in the meantime, State estimates it needs to spend almost $1.1 million to replace inadequate power supplies, remodel an outdated kitchen and make other routine repairs.

The projects fall into 19 categories such as physical security upgrades, upgrades to fire systems, and roof repairs and replacements.

State developed the 775-page maintenance plan primarily to make a business case to the Office of Management and Budget and lawmakers for additional funding. Hicks and other State officials said it's too early to tell whether the plan will lead to increased funding.

All property managers face similar challenges to cover maintenance costs, especially when budgets are tight, Hicks said.

"It's a problem not unique to us. It's common to government and quite frankly, talking to industry, it's a common story there as well. We're definitely not alone," he said.

The plan also serves as a helpful tool for State managers, who now have a holistic look at the size of the backlog and the various needs across the portfolio.

"You pull things together under one cover and it's always very illuminating and valuable," Hicks said.

One-quarter of State's 5,200 facilities are in poor condition based on the Facility Condition Index methodology, which measures a building's repair needs against the value of replacing the building at today's costs. Another quarter are in good condition, while the rest are deemed fair.

Hicks said, to his knowledge, no other agency or company has developed a similar plan detailing its long-range maintenance requirements.

State is updating the plan for the next fiscal year and will continue to track its progress in making repairs and securing funds.

"We hope the plan helps us manage the money we have better. We hope it serves as a basis to secure more funding, and we hope that our folks in the facilities that don't compare as well would take comfort in the fact that we're trying to do what we can here," Hicks said.

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