Response to Republican Staff Report on Embassy Construction
Report is littered with unsubstantiated allegations.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued the following statement and additional information in response to the release of a flawed Republican staff report on embassy construction:
“The security of American personnel serving in our embassies overseas deserves a rigorous and sober review, but unfortunately this flawed and partisan staff report does not meet this basic standard. This Republican staff report is littered with unsubstantiated allegations, cherry-picked evidence, and conclusions that contradict the overwhelming evidence that we obtained. If the Committee plans to devote additional resources to this investigation in the future, I hope we will focus more on actually improving the safety and security of the U.S. diplomatic corps serving our nation abroad.”
The Republican staff report is the result of a lengthy investigation initiated by former Chairman Darrell Issa in June 2014. The staff report was not submitted to Committee Members for deliberation or a vote, and it is not an official report of the Oversight Committee.
The Republican staff report contains basic factual errors, omits key facts that contradict preconceived partisan narratives, and makes reckless allegations with no credible evidence to support them:
· The Republican staff report’s top finding is that a shift to a “Design Excellence” construction approach “brought about longer planning and construction schedules” and “increased costs for facilities.” However, none of the 14 State Department witnesses interviewed by Committee staff attributed any delays or increased costs to the Design Excellence approach. The Republican staff report omits the fact that most witnesses praised the additional design flexibility of this approach for allowing improved features in security, functionality, and reduced long-term costs.
· The Republican staff report prominently cites one individual — the former Construction Executive for the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta — for security concerns about blast testing for the Jakarta embassy’s curtain wall exterior. However, the Republican staff report omits the fact that this same individual confirmed seven times during his interview with Committee staff that he is not a security expert and has “no professional expertise to be able to judge the performance of a curtain wall.” He stated that he based his view on “other people’s opinions,” but he declined to identify those individuals, and Committee staff never spoke with any of them.
· The Republican staff report finds that “Marines and others tasked with securing the facility stated they had no ability to see in the dark past the facility grounds.” However, the Republican staff report relies exclusively on unverified conversations with anonymous individuals at unidentified embassies. Democrats were never provided access to these individuals, and the Republican staff report omits the fact that in August 2016, the Marines responded to these anonymous allegations by explaining that “all embassies have a security system suite to include cameras with night vision capabilities.”
· The Republican staff report accuses Overseas Buildings Operations Director Lydia Muniz of perjuring herself before the Committee — based on no credible evidence — regarding whether she had direct knowledge about an incoming request for additional funds from a construction contractor in Jakarta. This serious allegation was based on a single individual who conceded during his interview with Committee staff that his opinion was not based on any direct knowledge of what Director Muniz knew at the time. The Republican staff report dismisses the fact that every other witness interviewed by Committee staff with knowledge regarding the Jakarta embassy has no reason to question Director Muniz’s testimony.
· The Republican staff report devotes an entire section to discussing problematic diplomatic facilities going back decades. However, the report contains no reference whatsoever to one of the most massive embassy construction debacles in history — the U.S. embassy constructed in Baghdad — where cost overruns and security failures were documented extensively by this Committee during the Bush Administration.
· Unfortunately, this partisan investigation lasted several years and was marred by wasteful spending. For example:
o Republicans demanded — under threat of subpoena — that a witness fly to the United States from Jakarta for an interview with Committee staff. After the witness landed in the United States, Republican staff abruptly cancelled the interview without explanation. This witness then flew to the United States a second time to complete his interview, despite Democratic requests to conduct the interview via video teleconference.
o The Committee spent more than $19,000 apiece for Rep. Chaffetz and a Republican staffer to personally travel to the U.S. embassy in Papua New Guinea in 2014. Chairman Issa and another Republican staffer later made the same trip and spent more than $24,000 apiece.