By Donna McIntire-Byrd
Early into the tenure of Director Addison “Tad” Davis IV at the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO), the bureau established a set of strategic goals—Security, Resiliency, and Stewardship—to align OBO’s operations with its mission to provide safe, secure, functional, and resilient facilities to support U.S. foreign policy objectives. When their guiding principles and mission are aligned, these facilities also represent American values and the best in American architecture, design, engineering, technology, sustainability, art, culture, and construction execution.
To meet these strategic goals, Davis introduced five strategic priorities to focus the collective efforts on delivering results every day, at each post, on each project supporting the 289 diplomatic locations around the world: Embassy After Next (EAN), Facility Maintenance and Upkeep, Diplomatic Residential Initiative, Data Management and Analytics, and Talent Management.
“The bureau’s strategic priorities must be well-defined and regularly communicated to become fully integrated into our daily operations, including roles, responsibilities, and actions,” said Davis. “These priorities will ensure short-term decisions are aligned with long-term goals, and more importantly, the State Department’s mission and vision.”
Over the past year, OBO’s leadership collaborated on defining standards and metrics for clear performance targets. The team reports progress quarterly and ensures that the targets and goals inform every aspect of OBO’s work.
Leading the way and setting the pace for OBO’s building program, this year, the EAN team advanced five major projects to improve program performance and quality and drive innovation, including an Embassy Standardization System to streamline aspects of the design process. This priority aims to improve construction schedules and costs by expanding the pool of contractors bidding on OBO projects. The program incorporates industry best practices to empower the OBO workforce and to deliver the highest quality projects while reducing risks and changes during construction. Through EAN, OBO is leading the industry in education and application of the Building Information Management platform by posting training modules on the Whole Building Design Guide, available to private sector partners and the general public.
Protecting and preserving valued assets and managing the Department’s global facility portfolio is the second priority and the goal of the Facility Maintenance and Upkeep (FMU) team. OBO is transitioning from focusing primarily on new construction to a revised holistic lifecycle approach to maintenance and repair strategies. This year, the FMU team focused on increasing facility managers’ (FM) capacity and capabilities at posts and ensuring functional readiness of facility infrastructure. Currently, 85 percent of authorized FM positions are filled, and 70 percent of posts have FM coverage, with a target of 95 percent by 2022.
Investment in diplomatic staff housing to improve safety, security, and quality of life for the overseas diplomatic community is another updated priority called the Diplomatic Residential Initiative (DRI). OBO recognizes the vital importance of housing overseas and is focused on enriching residential life while enhancing the global real property portfolio. The cross-program DRI Working Group is preparing a global survey to better understand occupants’ views on housing satisfaction. The team is also gathering detailed technical information about the housing stock inventory worldwide. These inputs will support a sophisticated prioritization tool for recycling underutilized assets, modernizing existing properties, and acquiring new diplomatic housing where appropriate. This effort is increasingly important, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, to demonstrate the significance of staff housing to support continuity of post operations.
OBO’s Data Management & Analytics (DMA) priority is focused on increasing innovation and productivity by utilizing and analyzing data to drive strategic decisions. The DMA initiative is foundational to all of OBO’s Strategic Priorities. The team is laying the groundwork to improve data accessibility, reliability, and usability to grow OBO into a more data-driven organization. They are also working to employ technology to inform funding and prioritization decisions that drive the Department’s property management lifecycle. The data management platform will be integrated with geographic information system tools and used to curate OBO’s data, produce standardized reports, and develop targeted management dashboards, including a bureau-wide Common Operating Picture. The team has delivered several proofs-of-concept, including a dashboard for DRI that maps residential/non-residential properties in Tokyo, Libreville, and Amman; an OBO staffing pattern dashboard for OBO position management; a construction management portfolio dashboard; and a Facilities Management Performance dashboard.
Finally, OBO’s Talent Management (TM) priority is to recruit, retain, and develop high-performing professionals. To build a stronger organization, the TM team developed a multi-phased initiative to strengthen diversity and inclusion, enhance professional development, modernize recruitment and retention, improve recognition, and increase employee engagement at all levels and across all disciplines. In May, OBO launched a new Diversity and Inclusion program that aligns with the Department’s larger initiative to create and sustain a diverse and inclusive culture. The program includes a monthly speaker series and an online diversity and inclusion toolkit to provide resources to all OBO.
The TM and DMA priorities provide foundational support, while the EAN, FMU, and DRI priorities expand OBO’s core operations across the facility lifecycle. Together, they serve as the base of OBO’s Functional Bureau Strategy and are key contributors to the Under Secretary of State for Management’s “M Family High Five” priority action plans.
“Our Strategic Priorities were launched to ensure OBO serves the global diplomatic community with vision, purpose, and value,” said Jeff Reba, deputy director for Resource Management and OBO Strategic Priorities champion. “The Strategic Priority teams are proud to work hand-in-hand with Director Davis as champions and role models for this important ongoing effort to all employees.”
Executing the five strategic priorities through the lens of security, resiliency, and stewardship positions OBO to support the Department’s field-focused, “one team, one mission” future. The secretary’s Ethos underpins a common set of operating principles, highlights expectations for all bureau employees, and serves as a guidepost for OBO’s daily efforts. To demonstrate OBO’s commitment, the bureau filmed a video to share why the Ethos is a central part of our everyday work.
OBO’s Strategic Priorities connect OBO’s roles and responsibilities to the secretary’s Ethos and the Department at large and reinforces the standard for all employees to serve as “champions of American diplomacy.”
Donna McIntire-Byrd is an architect for the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations.