One of the most popular venues for cherry blossom viewing in the spring is in Meguro River, Tokyo. Cherry blossoms are symbolic of the diplomatic friendship between the United States and Japan. Photo by Makoto_Honda
By Christin Martinelli, Scott Stewart, and Alyssa Lapan
“One Team, One Mission” cannot be better exemplified than by the recent Country Plan Japan efforts led by the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations’ (OBO) Planning and Real Estate (PRE) Directorate. OBO manages the Department of State’s global portfolio and sets worldwide priorities for the planning, acquisition, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and disposal of overseas property. The portfolio spans 291 locations and contains more than 25,000 assets. OBO’s mission is to provide safe, secure, functional, and resilient facilities that represent the U.S. government to the host nation and support the Department’s achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives abroad.
Within OBO’s PRE Directorate, the Master Planning Division is a cross-discipline team of planners, architects, graphic and interior designers, geographers, information technology specialists, and real estate professionals led by Division Director Aaron Gasper. The group provides strategic decision support for the full portfolio of facilities. It is ultimately responsible for major, multi-million dollar recommendations on whether to renovate or build new facilities, retain or sell properties, or other significant “go/no-go” decisions. The team coordinates across the bureau to ensure that OBO pursues the right projects, avoids unnecessary investments, and recovers value from underutilized properties. The collective emphasis is on collaboration and communication.
Co-led by Scott Stewart and Alyssa Lapan, planners from PRE’s Master Planning Division, with significant contributions from more than 80 stakeholders at post, OBO, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Management Strategy Solutions, the Foreign Service Institute, and the interagency community, a year-long country plan effort culminated in a comprehensive and phased implementation plan for the entirety of Mission Japan.
Utilizing the “M Family High Five” guiding principles as the rubric and a “One Team, One Mission” approach, the team formulated a first-of-its-kind analysis rooted in data-driven decisions. More than 20 functional and residential recommendations across seven cities were established. Once fully executed, Country Plan Japan will have produced modern, secure facilities from which their dedicated staff can continue to serve the United States safely .
After the team defined the parameters of the analysis, examined the potential impact on the overall portfolio, and defined metrics of success, the development of Country Plan Japan began in earnest during the spring of 2019. Project familiarization briefings within OBO, in Washington and at post, helped socialize the endeavor and garner the necessary support and resources.
Mission Japan—with one of the busiest and highest profiles in the world—enthusiastically embraced the effort and Management Minister-Counselor Matt Smith leaned into the ambitious work. Despite initial planning for the now-postponed 2020 Olympics, hosting a steady stream of delegations for the Group of 20 (G20) in Osaka, and dealing with a rare imperial transition, nothing deterred the Mission from actively contributing to the analysis.
“The OBO team promised and delivered radical transparency that gave Mission Japan critically useful insights into property valuations, facility index scores, and maintenance costs,” said Smith after the effort. “These insights immediately improved management decision-making processes for Mission Japan and elevated trust from mission leadership for OBO and the Plan Japan team.”
The country plan product is an evaluation of alternative solutions to new embassy campuses or new consulate campuses that concurrently analyzes all the diplomatic posts within a country. In Japan, the team evaluated current facilities at each of the seven posts—Tokyo, Fukuoka, Nagoya, Naha, Osaka-Kobe, Sapporo, and Yokohama—and considered historical data as well as potential future scenarios. A path forward was determined for each of Mission Japan’s posts to meet and improve security and operations. Each of the 76 alternatives was reviewed for conformance to security standards and the ability to address management concerns and to provide future flexibility, resiliency, and a high-quality platform for diplomacy.
This comprehensive assessment identified the best path forward for the future development of U.S. Mission facilities and allowed Mission Japan and their bureau to re-evaluate and coordinate the distribution of staff in all posts. Eleven months after the start of the project, recommendations and a phased implementation plan were drafted with input from more than 80 staff members. Country Plan Japan was approved four weeks later on June 23.
“It was a defining moment for myself and my home bureau, OBO, as an analysis of this scale had never been done before,” said team co-lead Scott Stewart.
Country Plan Japan conducted the effort with a modernized mission-centric, field-first approach that brought together expertise from across the Department to study multiple posts relative to one another concurrently. Data-informed decisions were made possible with the creation of new evaluation models that included OBO’s key mission objectives. These objectives were to achieve greater consensus among Department and interagency decision-makers and to assess each post’s performance related to security, operations, and cost.
The outcome of this effort was increased collaboration with Department stakeholders, which resulted in more accurate plans for Japan’s future diplomatic presence.
“Posts throughout Mission Japan were engaged regularly and by having a consistent set of contacts, we were an active partner in the planning,” said Osaka-Kobe Management Officer Michael Tapley. “We finished the process knowing it was very much field-driven to realize the future vision of our presence in Japan.”
The country plan process demonstrated to all stakeholders that transparent analysis and communication build strong relations and yield meaningful results.
Above all else, the team knew the effort set a precedent for many country plans to come. Every stage of the project was an opportunity to align its purpose more cohesively with broader bureau objectives and deliver impactful results for the field.
The methodologies used to execute the Country Plan Japan analysis will be the template for future country plan efforts to ensure similar high-quality results for the U.S. government.
“Country Plan Japan was the largest Department-wide planning analysis where the team came to consensus on all the recommendations,” said Victoria Hartke, OBO’s managing director of the Planning and Real Estate Directorate. “The project leaders were well organized and guided everyone to meet their scheduled deadlines, making the project a success.”
“The brilliance of the country planning concept lies in having a true partnership between the Regional Bureau, posts, OBO, and Diplomatic Security from day one,” said Smith. “Mission Japan was motivated by pressing and long-standing real estate challenges. The country plan created a vehicle to collaborate, generate solutions, and forge agreements that meet the full needs of all interagency stakeholders.”
Country Plan Japan outlines the next steps for all of Japan’s functional and residential properties. It is a more than 30-year, long-term outlook with actionable short-term tasks. Once the recommendations are implemented, posts will meet all codes and requirements and achieve compliance with all standards and laws. Another 657 desk positions will be in safer, more secure, and modernized buildings. These facilities represent American values and, most importantly, protect the people charged with leading the nation’s foreign policy. For more information on OBO, visit their website.
Christin Martinelli is an architect, planner, and realty specialist. Scott Stewart is a planner. Alyssa Lapan is an architect and the Building Information Modeling program lead for the
Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations, Directorate of Planning and Real Estate.