OBO Project Director Matt Roy, Project Manager Jamison Taylor, and EPAP FM Gillian Regal (top, left) host an All Hands Meeting to restart a project at Embassy Nairobi. Photo courtesy of OBO

By Megan Byrley

“Those 15 years of experience in the electrical field were not all for naught,” said Michael Eckard, expressing his relief about joining the Expanded Professional Associates Program (EPAP). Eckard came into the Foreign Service as an eligible family member (EFM), and at a meeting to welcome new EPAP Facility Managers (FM), he was not alone in his relief.  He and his colleagues are proof that EFMs have relevant and highly sought after experience within the Department of State.

Michael Eckard checks for hot spots on a recently repaired bus duct at Embassy Jakarta. Photo courtesy of OBO
Michael Eckard checks for hot spots on a recently repaired bus duct at Embassy Jakarta. Photo courtesy of OBO

EFMs like Eckard routinely accompany their spouses abroad on assignments and sometimes find themselves cut off from career opportunities in their chosen professions as a result. Despite years of education and extensive field experience that these EFMs bring with them, employment options within missions can be limited. While traditional EFM opportunities such as community liaison officer, office manager, security escort, and consular assistant are critical to the successful operation of an embassy, none are ideally suited to EFMs who have invested years of education and work in specialty fields, seeking to continue building their careers.  

EPAP, established in 2008 and administered by the Family Liaison Office (FLO), fills critical staffing gaps at the Department’s overseas posts and provides professional employment opportunities to some of these family members with specific skills. EPAP holds many roles similar to Foreign Service positions in economic, management, political, public diplomacy, financial management, general services, human resources, information management, office management, and medical sections. Recognizing the employment successes in other skill codes, the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) partnered with FLO in 2019 to establish its first 30 EPAP FM positions. 

The global market for FMs is extremely competitive. An International Facility Management Association study estimated that 50 percent of the current facility management workforce will retire in the next 5 to 15 years. FAC has been operating at an FM deficit for years, and recruitment is a real challenge. FAC was unsure that it would find enough candidates within the existing family member community with all these challenges. However, the FAC team was happily surprised when the first year of the OBO-funded EPAP yielded 30 applicants.

Overseas Facility Management at the Department’s 289 posts requires more than just technical expertise. It takes extensive management acumen to support OBO’s mission to provide safe, secure, and resilient diplomatic facilities around the world. Beyond buildings and operations, there are more than 6,400 locally employed staff in FAC who possess a wide range of education, skills, and backgrounds, from engineers to technicians, making personnel management a major requirement. Add a world coping with a global pandemic and the ever-complex nature of operating new embassy buildings, and Facility Management becomes a career field in high demand.   

EPAP FM Gillian Regal (center) reviews plans with Lead Engineer Vikas Saini (left), and Mechanical Engineer Peter Ruheni (right). Photo by Florence Kiragu
EPAP FM Gillian Regal (center) reviews plans with Lead Engineer Vikas Saini (left), and Mechanical Engineer Peter Ruheni (right). Photo by Florence Kiragu

The qualifications for Facility Management EPAPs are exacting and modeled on the requirements for Foreign Service FMs. With the help of FLO and regional bureau counterparts, the hiring process follows guidelines laid out by other successful EPAPs. Extensive vetting is required to maintain the integrity and quality of the FM program.

“I was truly impressed by the resumes that came for review,” said Bill Sherrill, the director of the OBO Regional Support Center (ORSC) in Fort Lauderdale, who was one of several EPAP applicant reviewers. “Engineers and managers alike, all with experience to help build our program.” 

EPAP FM Gillian Regal displays new signage designed post-pandemic for Embassy Nairobi. Photo by Florence Kiragu
EPAP FM Gillian Regal displays new signage designed post-pandemic for Embassy Nairobi. Photo by Florence Kiragu

Managing the operations and maintenance program at a mission is not an easy task. It remains critically important to FAC and OBO that everyone in the field projects both OBO’s and the Department’s ethos and goals. 

For Gillian Regal, an EPAP FM in Nairobi, Kenya, her embassy experience and pre-Foreign Service work in architecture helped her fill that mold for FAC and post. 

“Insight into families, from my [community liaison officer] job, has been especially helpful. I have a much better understanding of my customers and their needs,” she said. 

OBO strategically funded positions at the start of the program in three regional bureaus—African, European and Eurasian, and Western Hemisphere Affairs. Each is served by established ORSCs in Frankfurt and Fort Lauderdale. These centers provide Facility Management coordination and coverage in the three regions and are in a perfect position to help manage the OBO EPAP program. In addition to reviewing initial applicants for the program, experienced ORSC personnel play an integral role in supervising, monitoring, and mentoring new EPAP facility managers, as well as serving as reviewing officials on their performance reviews. This relationship ensures that new EPAP team members receive much-needed training, have a key point of contact in a similar time zone when there are issues, and have a sounding board for their ideas. 

“The senior FM at my posting asked me, ‘What do you want to learn about? What are you passionate about?’ Never in my private industry experience had I been asked those questions. I knew from that conversation this was going to be a great job,” said Regal. 

In 2019, six OBO-funded and nine bureau- or ICASS-funded EFMs started work as EPAP FMs. Serving in places worldwide, the EPAP FMs thrived in Vienna, Frankfurt, The Hague, Lima, Monterrey, and Kigali, to name a few. In Budapest, FAC was thrilled to hire two candidates. One of those candidates, Elizabeth Newton, is an excellent example of why the EPAP program is vital to the Department’s overall success. Formerly an industrial and systems engineer, since becoming an EPAP FM, Newton has excelled at Embassy Budapest, earning accolades from the senior FM and the Mission’s Front Office. 

“Elizabeth Newton is a thoughtful, energetic leader and astute manager. She is capable and ready to be on her own and can handle all that will be thrown at her,” said Ralph Delarue, a former senior FM in Budapest, attesting to the success of the program. 

Before the pandemic, FM Elizabeth Newton prepares for maintenance work with Senior Building Engineer Krisztian Kovacs at Embassy Budapest. Photo by Zoltan Guzmits
Before the pandemic, FM Elizabeth Newton prepares for maintenance work with Senior Building Engineer Krisztian Kovacs at Embassy Budapest. Photo by Zoltan Guzmits

Due to the success of the 2019 EPAP FMs, OBO expanded the program to all regional bureaus in 2020. This year, FLO received 57 applications from 34 different posts for EPAP FM positions, with several posts having more than one qualified applicant to interview. As of publication, there were 13 active EPAP FMs and 8 in the process of on-boarding. Through their partnership with FLO and the expansion of the OBO supported FM EPAP program, OBO has been able to fill critical Facility Management staff shortages while also providing outstanding professional career opportunities for EFMs. OBO’s participation in the EPAP program represents a win for OBO, the regional bureaus, and the Department’s “M family.” It addresses Talent Management’s top priority of sustaining a healthy, resilient, and engaged global workforce. Most of all, it represents a win for the talented EFMs and professionals who are invaluable members of the Department team. 

Megan Byrley is a Foreign Service facility manager in the Office of Facility Management.