By Elizabeth Slaughter, Mark Schmidt, and Erich Chan
The Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) is committed to providing safe and secure housing for all U.S. diplomats serving overseas. However, the Department of State does not receive a dedicated congressional appropriation for overseas housing and must fund the acquisition of new residences and the improvement of existing residences with proceeds from the sale of properties already in the Department’s housing pool. Unfortunately, the need for new or improved housing far exceeds availability of funds.
To address this problem, OBO launched the Diplomatic Residential Program (DRP), which applies data-driven methodologies to manage the Department’s overseas housing portfolio, now exceeding 16,000 properties. DRP began in 2020 with a 45-question “Quality of Life Survey.” More than 5,000 responses from 239 posts conveyed and quantified the level of employee satisfaction with the housing at each location. In parallel, OBO began objectively evaluating every residential property for compliance with Department safety, seismic, and security standards. OBO is analyzing this data to determine which posts have the most pressing need for new or improved housing. In mid-April 2021, OBO will release a second DRP survey to interagency employees and their family members serving overseas under chief of mission authority. This survey, which will take less than 10 minutes to complete, stands to collect much-needed feedback about on- versus off-compound housing.
DRP demonstrates OBO’s commitment to data-driven decision-making to improve overseas housing. The more feedback OBO receives from the field, the more successful the DRP will become. Accurate, insightful survey responses will ensure the Department directs limited resources where they are most needed—in turn maximizing safety, security, and quality of life for American diplomats and their family members serving overseas.
Elizabeth Slaughter is the office director, Mark Schmidt is the lead program analyst, and Erich Chan is a division director in the Office of Strategic Planning at the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations.