Florida Regional Center employees gather for a team photo on a bright winter day in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Dec. 19, 2022. Photo courtesy of the Florida Regional Center
By Sarah Spodek
Originally located in Santo Domingo, the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs’ (WHA) regional operation relocated to Miami, Fla., and then, following the destruction of that facility by Hurricane Andrew, moved to its current location near Fort Lauderdale. Housed in a government-owned building maintained by the Bureau of Administration, the Florida Regional Center (FRC) includes 150 staff from five Department of State bureaus and the U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), all of which provide support to the 54 embassies and consulates in WHA.
“The unique element of FRC, aside from our incredible South Florida location, is that we are a domestic facility entirely focused on overseas operations,” said FRC Director Eric Flohr. “While each office works on different aspects of those operations, our shared commitment and easy collaboration result in a supportive and positive office environment, while yielding great results for our customer missions. In addition, the reality that much of our work is remote lends many of our positions to the remote work agreements becoming more common and sought-after in the post-COVID world.”
FRC—a part of WHA’s executive section—provides human resources (HR), financial management, and general services support, mostly to the smaller embassies in the region. A portion of the HR team manages the Regional Classification Center responsible for classifying locally employed (LE) staff positions using a network of classifiers and approvers located in WHA embassies and domestically. FRC also manages WHA’s office management, as well as the information management rover programs, reemployed annuitant program, LE staff executive corps, and management coaching and mentoring programs. With a network of resources to fill gaps, provide assistance, or boost capacity when a surge is required, FRC partners with posts across the region to help ensure operational success.
“We receive, via the Miami Diplomatic Courier Office, crates of computer equipment that may not be destroyed overseas. We process them for destruction in our Ameri-Shred AMS-QS-42100 shredder which chews them up into little fragments which are then recycled,” said Yi Zhou, FRC’s information management officer, describing a lesser-known element of his team’s worldwide scope.
Despite pandemic-related logistical challenges, the information services center team still destroyed 20,000 pounds of classified equipment in 2021. A new initiative is expected to extend that service to ClassNet hard-drives in the coming year.
FRC instructors, including a cadre of local staff adjunct faculty, provide training at FRC and overseas to foster professional development and build or refresh technical capabilities for WHA staff. Numerous remote classes bolster program capacity and provide needed flexibility.
Charles Miller, an Foreign Service Institute faculty member working from FRC, leads that effort, which has resumed full operations following the pandemic-induced, in-person training lull.
“This year, we plan to offer 90 courses in-person, and we will also offer a new five-day virtual course on diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility,” said Miller. There is a backlog to overcome, but we are well on our way thanks to our tremendous team and the skilled subject matter expert trainers at our missions. We thank those posts for their willingness to spare their staff periodically to engage in this important function.”
The Regional Information Management Center (RIMC) is part of the Information Resource Management (IRM) Bureau and reports to the deputy chief information officer in foreign operations. RIMC Florida is accountable for all communications issues that fall under the IRM umbrella for WHA. RIMC’s 31 staff work in the executive office, cyberops, unified communications, regional manager, ClassNet regionalization, radio, and training branches. RIMC Director George Navadel pointed out the importance of the South Florida location in facilitating the frequent travel of his team members to the region, including forward deployed personnel to effectively cover each of the bureau’s eight zones.
“Most people serving in WHA Missions understand that RIMC technicians visit posts for routine maintenance, upgrades of technical equipment and systems, and in response to emergencies. They may not realize that when they utilize ClassNet at post, the servers involved all reside in the U.S. and are administered and maintained by RIMC staff, ensuring continuity of operations while improving information security,” he said
FRC houses the Bureau of Diplomatic Security’s Office of Security Technology (ST) which employs 21 security professionals. The ST field office provides technical security services such as: designing, installing, and servicing technical security systems; performing countermeasures inspections; completing technical security safeguards operational health assessments; and managing residential monitoring systems for anomalous health incidents. The team includes two regional computer security officers who are charged with analyzing the Department’s IT systems, and the regional director for security engineering also works from the Fort Lauderdale office.
The OBO Regional Support Center (ORSC) for WHA coaches and mentors new facility managers and coordinates regional operations between posts and the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations Washington. Additionally, the ORSC supports posts directly in cases where there is no permanent facility manager.
ORSC Director Bill Sherrill noted that the large number of NEC and NCC projects underway and recently completed in WHA is a key driver for his team’s efforts. “With new compounds recently opened in Guatemala City, Monterrey, Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo, and Paramaribo and several due for completion in the next few years including Nassau, Asuncion, Montevideo, Mexico City, Hermosillo, Nogales, Merida, Curacao, and Guadalajara, we are helping to manage a massive transition in and augmentation of facility management in the region,” he said.
The USMC Embassy Security Group for Regions 4 and 9 operate from FRC as well. Consisting of 23 Marines, the headquarters sections are responsible for Marine Security Guards (MSG) stationed in WHA, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. They work with regional security officers and detachment commanders at posts and with USMC program managers to ensure the operational readiness and discipline of MSG detachments, and to provide logistical and administrative support.
FRC’s diverse and effective teams work together with posts in the region, and with Washington-based offices to provide critical services to WHA missions while demonstrating a result-orientated approach that emphasizes shared responsibility and support for WHA operations.
Sarah Spodek is the deputy director of the Florida Regional Center.