A project to build a new U.S. embassy compound in Turkmenistan is expected to complete eight years late and $131 million over its budget, according to a U.S. lawmaker who recently introduced a bill to add more Congressional oversight of State Dept. overseas construction projects.
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), who chairs the Subcommittee on National Security, introduced the Embassy Construction Accountability Act Sept. 9. The bill would require State Dept. officials to report to Congressional committees any project delays of 180 days or more and cost overruns of 15% or more with a description of factors that contributed.
Lynch highlighted one specific project in a statement about his bill: the new embassy compound in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. Montgomery, Ala.-based Caddell Construction Co. is the general contractor on the project. Construction began in 2015, and was expected to complete in 2018, with a cost of $196.5 million. Lynch’s office says the project is now expected to complete sometime in 2026 at a cost of at least $327.5 million.
The legislation would “allow Congress to more quickly identify serious lapses during embassy construction and promptly work with the State Dept. to ensure these critical projects are completed on-time and on-budget and serve the interests of U.S. national security and the American taxpayer,” Lynch said in a statement.
Lynch had previously called on Secretary of State Anthony Blinken to hold Caddell financially responsible for the overruns. A 2020 report from the State Dept.’s Office of Inspector General found that the contractor and the department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations shared blame for the error. An OBO official was not immediately available to comment and Caddell did not respond to inquiries. Caddell has previous embassy construction experience, having previously worked on State Dept. projects in Russia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Red Line Rule
The embassy compound project includes construction of 13 buildings, including a new office, staff housing, a Marine Corps security residence and other facilities on 17.3 acres. The buildings were designed to match Ashgabat’s aesthetics, with white marble and a geometrical architectural style. But the Turkmen government halted construction of the new office building in July 2016, after $26 million had already been spent building the facility, according to the OIG report. The building violated a local “red line” rule in place since back when Turkmenistan was part of the Soviet Union. The rule requires all buildings in Ashgabat to be set back a certain distance from the road, but the embassy office was being built over that line.
OBO serves as the State Dept.’s overseas property manager, leading acquisition, design, construction and maintenance of facilities. But the OIG report found that OBO project managers failed to follow procedures that would have caught the city’s red line requirement and shared it appropriately. They also allowed a key site visit to occur before a legal assessment was completed, and did not require the architecture and engineering firm designing bridging documents to deliver the required documents that would have alerted them to office building’s placement, according to the report.
The OIG report also found Caddell failed to obtain required Turkmen government construction permits or verify they had been obtained before starting work as required in its contract, though Caddell representatives told the team preparing the report that they had been under the impression that OBO had obtained the necessary permits. If the contractor had sought the permits, the red line issue would have been discovered by the city architect’s office before work began, OIG says.
U.S. officials repeatedly tried to persuade the Turkmen government to allow construction to continue with the office building over the red line or to build an earthen berm over the section that crosses the line, but attempts over the course of several years failed. Officials determined the only viable option would be to completely demolish the portion of the office that had been built and start over.
Construction on other buildings on the site was able to continue during the halt of work on the office. State Dept. officials issued a $114.8-million contract modification in September 2021 for reconstruction of the office building.
In his statement, Lynch said U.S. taxpayers are shouldering the cost overruns, but he wants the contractor to be held responsible. His bill was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs after its introduction. So far, no cosponsors have signed on.