By Jamie M. Fleischhacker
The Regional Procurement Support Office (RPSO) is a forward-based activity of the Bureau of Administration’s Office of the Procurement Executive (OPE) Acquisition Management team and is a tenant in the U.S. Consulate General in Frankfurt. Those who have ever visited an embassy or consulate abroad have likely benefited from the work performed by the contracting specialists and officers assigned to RPSO. RPSO provides missions abroad with a responsive and efficient contracting resource. Established more than 40 years ago, RPSO provides contracting support to 145 posts across six regional bureaus, multiple functional bureaus, and interagency partners in 115 countries. It delivers an estimated $156 million in acquisition services, from simple procurements to complex multi-million-dollar construction contracts, enabling missions to carry out their diplomatic endeavors.
When there is a change to the operating environment, RPSO responds and provides the support requested. RPSO provides acquisition support for limited foreign assistance, something post contracting officers are not authorized to do. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, RPSO contracting personnel have procured more than $20 million in foreign assistance items. From donating medical equipment to the government of Belarus to providing personal protective equipment to hospitals across Kenya and Mozambique as well as laboratory items to Thailand, RPSO has played a small part in ending the pandemic, one of the Biden Administration’s top priorities.
“In one instance, we were constructing a field hospital to fight COVID-19, and the essential supplies and equipment needed to complete the project exceeded the procurement warrants that are resident at our embassy,” said Maj. Ryan Holland, chief of the Office of Security Cooperation in Luanda, Angola. “RPSO stepped in, and we quickly had the project back on track and on time for completion. Without their support, we may have been providing an incomplete structure or severely delayed the project in looking for an alternate solution.”
The work of many Missions abroad changed with the closure and evacuation of personnel from Afghanistan. Mission Germany was no exception. Overall, the Ramstein Interagency Team (RIAT) processed more than 35,000 Afghans through Ramstein Air Base for onward travel to the United States. One critical piece that enabled the success of operations was the interpreter support contracted by RPSO. From delivering briefs onboard the flights to providing interpretation for Afghans receiving medical care at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, the interpreters played a critical role during the 73 days RIAT was operational. Though usually working with long acquisition lead times, RPSO contracting personnel demonstrated RPSO’s flexibility and agility with supporting the Department of State’s changing priorities.
Annually, the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) is one of RPSO’s largest customers by volume. One example of the successful collaboration between RPSO and INL is in Kosovo.
“INL Pristina has been able to build Kosovo institutional capacities in rule of law and law enforcement over the past decade,” said INL Program Assistant Dea Bektashi Zhubi. “RPSO supported several large and complex procurement projects—including providing radio towers [in 2014] and anti-drone equipment [in 2021] to the Kosovo Police and an Automated Fingerprint System to the Kosovo Forensics Agency in 2018,” due to the expert advice and outstanding service over the last decade.
RPSO works with interagency partners to support their role in diplomacy as well. Since 2007, RPSO has partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in support of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). From building the first Antiretroviral Clinic and Training Center in Mzuzu for the Malawi Counseling and Resource Organization to installing 64 prefabricated HIV clinics across 35 locations, RPSO has played a small but important role in reaching the most vulnerable populations in the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Saswell Kayuni of the CDC in Malawi noted that RPSO has “significantly contributed to the strengthening of the health system and the sustainability of the HIV program in Malawi,” through the construction projects it has contracted and provided oversight on.
Infrastructure projects is an area of expertise resident within RPSO. RPSO works hand-in-hand with post Facility Management personnel and the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) on projects every year to keep embassies and consulates up and running. These projects have included water chiller replacements, elevator maintenance and servicing, and roof replacements. RPSO also works with OBO on large scale projects such as renovations of chief of mission residences (CMRs) and other official residences to include those listed in the Secretary of State’s Registry of Culturally Significant Property. Projects have included the restoration of the façade on “Palazzo Margherita,”the chancery in Rome; façade and roof renovations at the U.S. Consulate General in Florence; and the renovation of CMR in Sofia, Bulgaria. Currently underway is the renovation of the CMR in Oslo, Norway, “Villa Otium,” a building once owned by Albert Nobel, founder of the Nobel Prize. Historical renovations are complex and challenging projects, but RPSO has methods to aid in the acquisition process.
“RPSO holds nine architectural engineer design and construction monitoring contracts,” said RPSO Contracting Specialist Maureen MacDougall, who has more than 20 years of construction contracting experience. “We can utilize these contracts to provide for our customers, whether in Rome, Oslo, or somewhere else in the world to get the customer what they need.”
The work done by RPSO is a great example of how OPE delivers flexible solutions through a responsive and knowledgeable workforce. OPE is committed to providing a consistent and valuable acquisition experience for customers, employees, and stakeholders.
“Whether its high-level Department priorities such as supporting Operation Allies Refuge and the COVID-19 pandemic, to support contracts that enable communications and keep embassies and consulates running daily, my team is there to provide you the acquisition support needed without fail,” said RPSO Director Eric Moore. “No matter the requirement, RPSO will work with you to ensure your acquisition experience helps to accomplish your mission.”
Jamie Fleischhacker is a general services officer in theRegional Procurement Support Office in Frankfurt.