Monday, April 13, 2015

Have Hard Hat, Will Travel

Diplopundit's Burn Bag entry about OBO's losses in engineering employees made me think back to the retirements and resignations I've noticed among my good friends in Overseas Buildings Operations over the last couple years. Yeah, I think there is indeed a pattern there.

A demoralization among OBO's engineers would kind of make sense in the context of OBO's overwhelming focus on Design Excellence, or, to use the new name for it, Just Plain Excellence. (The word "design" was dropped from the program's name about one day after the disastrous House Oversight Committee hearing in which OBO's Director and Deputy Director were severely criticized for favoring artsy & expensive embassy office buildings over functional & sensibly-priced ones.) In a Design Excellence organization, the architects are firmly in charge and the engineers will always play second fiddle.

According to the Burn Bag information, OBO has lost about 20 percent of its engineering staff. There is substantiation for that claim in the current USAJobs open announcement for Foreign Service Construction Engineers, which says OBO has "many vacancies" in that field:

Job Title: Foreign Service Construction Engineer
Department: Department Of State
Agency: Department of State
Agency Wide Job Announcement Number: CON-2015-0002

MANY vacancies - Washington DC,

A Foreign Service Construction Engineer (FSCE) is an engineer or architect, in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations working specifically in the Office of Construction Management, responsible for managing Department of State construction projects overseas. The FSCE is a member of a U.S. Government team that ensures construction is professionally performed according to applicable plans, specifications, schedules, and standards. The FSCE must adhere to the highest standards of integrity, dependability, attention to detail, teamwork and cooperation while accepting the need to travel, to live overseas, and when necessary, to live away from family.

Those vacancies are for permanent, direct-hire, Foreign Service employees. In addition, there were also personal service contractor vacancies for OBO engineers announced on five days ago. That one is looking for General Engineers, Mechanical Engineers, and Civil/Structural Engineers.

Why isn't there also a need for Electrical Engineers? After all, you can't spell Geek without two Es.

It looks like engineers are indeed exiting OBO in large numbers. Why that is, I can't be sure. But I have to think it is not a good thing for my friends in OBO.


James said...

I had to laugh a little. In the construction world I call architects archbishops, engineers bishops, their reps monsignors, etc. So essentially a sub contractor's meeting is like going to confess your sins and transgressions, getting absolution and exhortations to go forth and do good (or faithfully await the next plan revision).

TSB said...

James - There was a time in the 2000s when standardized design and modular buildings were in favor in OBO, and the engineers gained the upper hand. But now the wheel of fortune has turned, and the architects are back on top.

James said...

I can deal with engineers, but architects well.....Years ago, my father (masonry contractor) had a city job where the building exterior backup was concrete to be veneered with limestone rock in an uncoarsed pattern(popular in the southwest). Anyway the rock veneer was 4" thick with a 1 1/2" void between it and the conc., so far so good. The problem was the conc. back up wall had pilasters projecting out I think about a foot. The plan detail for this condition showed the 4" veneer to go down to 2" and wrap the pilaster with no void. Ain't gonna work. Dad suggested moving the rock out a 1/2" and putting a vertical control joint at each pilaster. The architect said no, build it as shown. Well, the argument went back and forth and finally the architect told Dad the detail was just a conception. I'll always remember my Dad's reply: "I looked up conception the dictionary and it's nothing but a f*cking idea" So true on so many levels and to this day there is a building with vert. cont. jts. at every exterior pilaster and no cracks!

TSB said...

James - I'm pretty sure that to many architects a building they designed exists mainly in their imaginations, artistic visions, etc, rather than in the physical world. The payoff for them is the vision, not the functional building. Once they're done with a job, the building is just a pastel watercolor drawing that they hang on the office wall. Or, for really important jobs, the model they built before they started the design phase.

James said...

I shouldn't be too harsh, I have met competent architects before, it's just seems as a class they sure fall easily into stereotyping. I bet in your world that's really the case.
Ps: As a mason contractor (and former bricklayer) my dad really disliked precast concrete.

TSB said...

If architects don't want to be stereotyped, then they should cut back on boho-chic clothes and round eyeglasses. If you can pick out the architects when you walk into a roomful of strangers, it's because they want it that way.

James said...

You definitely win on that one, Hah!