As the State Dept. office in charge of embassy construction adjusts to workplace changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic, it has continued to award a stream of construction and design contracts for new projects at posts around the world.

Addison “Tad” Davis, director of State's Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), says that during the past six months, the department has awarded contracts for seven major construction projects, valued at more than $445 million, plus 11 architectural and engineering services contracts, totaling about $28 million.

Among the construction contracts are design-build contracts awarded to B.L. Harbert International for a new embassy in Podgorica, Montenegro, and an embassy annex in Bangkok, Thailand.

Beyer Blinder Belle is the design architect for the Podgorica project and SHoP Architects is the design architect for the Bangkok project.

In 2019, Caddell Construction Co. had protested the contract award to Harbert but the Court of Federal Claims on Jan. 30 of this year, ruled against Caddell.

According to the court's ruling, State Dept. officials found that provisions in Caddell's proposal dealing with "key personnel" to be assigned to the project were unacceptable. But the court found that State "properly awarded the contract" to Harbert.

Speaking at the annual meeting—this one virtual—of the bureau's industry advisory panel on Sept. 22, Davis reported that in fiscal 2020, OBO completed nearly $5.3 billion in new construction or rehabilitation work.

It also has obligated $5.2 billion for additional projects and, looking ahead, has sent out 13 requests for proposals for other major embassy and consulate projects.

Upcoming construction project awards include design-build contracts expected in late 2020 for an embassy in Doha, Qatar, and an embassy in Lilongwe, Malawi. A design-build contract for a consulate in Lagos, Nigeria, is anticipated for early 2021.

In addition, a construction manager as contractor contract award is expected in early 2021 for an embassy compound in Hanoi.

Because of the pandemic, OBO suspended work about six months ago on 55 of its approximately 70 active construction projects around the world; those 55 projects' combined construction value is about $10 billion, Davis said.

Working with its staff, construction contractors and representatives of the host nations, OBO has been able to reduce the number of suspended projects to 15. He added that as of early October, “probably half a dozen of those will be coming back on line as well.”

Also starting in about mid-March, OBO shifted to nearly 100% telework and recalled about 130 of its personnel who had been deployed overseas.

He told attendees that OBO officials have added an emphasis on project resiliency to the bureau's strategic goals. “We want to be able to operate our facilities under whatever conditions our diplomats may be faced with—whether it’s natural or man-made disasters,” he said. 

Davis added, “Over the course of the last year, we’ve weathered our share of hurricanes, typhoons, tsunamis, as well as power outages, [including] entire metropolitan grids, to the shutdown of water and wastewater systems.”

OBO also has faced recent crisis situations, including the New Year's Eve attack on the U.S. embassy compound in Baghdad, during which an outer barrier was breached.

Davis said that OBO staffers at the site working on other projects, “were able to spring into action” and quickly to assist in shoring up some of the breaches and reinforcing damaged areas.

He said that OBO is now developing a plan to improve conditions at the compound.

Davis also cited the Aug. 4 explosion at the port of Beirut, which—according to a BBC report—killed at least 200 people. The U.S. embassy construction site in Beirut was not impacted, but some materials stored near the port were damaged.

At the time of the project's April 2017 groundbreaking, then-U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard referred to it as “a billion-dollar facility.”

Story updated on 9/29/2020 with information on protest of OBO contract award for a project in Montenegro and court ruling against protest.