Spotlight: U.S. Department of State

Which federal agency’s mission is to “Advance freedom for the benefit of the American people and the international community by helping to build and sustain a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world composed of well-governed states that respond to the needs of their people, reduce widespread poverty, and act responsibly within the international system”? The U.S. Department of State, commonly referred to as the State Department, was the first federal executive department to be established, in 1789. (That September, President George Washington appointed Thomas Jefferson to be the first U.S. Secretary of State.)

The State Department has been headquartered since 1947 in the Harry S. Truman Building at 2201 C Street, N.W., a few blocks from the White House, in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. The department operates the nation’s diplomatic missions abroad and is responsible for implementing U.S. foreign policy and diplomacy efforts. Its core activities are to promote and protect the interests of American citizens by “1) Promoting peace and stability in regions of vital interest; 2) Creating jobs at home by opening markets abroad; 3) Helping developing nations establish investment and export opportunities; and 4) Bringing nations together and forging partnerships to address global problems, such as terrorism, the spread of communicable diseases, cross-border pollution, humanitarian crises, nuclear smuggling, and narcotics trafficking.” It had a FY2012 discretionary budget of $53.4 billion. The department’s many thousands of employees—who include foreign service officers and specialists, civil service professionals and foreign nationals—work at more than 265 locations in more than 170 countries, as well as at additional locations throughout the United States. In this country alone, about 5,000 professional, technical and administrative employees compile and analyze reports from overseas, provide logistical support to overseas posts, communicate with the American public, formulate and oversee the budget, issue passports and travel warnings, and more.

Since the early the 20th century, the State Department has invested in building and maintaining a large network of diplomatic missions, embassies and consulates. The first wave of overseas construction began with the creation of the department’s Foreign Service Buildings Commission in 1926. Today, the department’s Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations (OBO) directs a worldwide building program and, in concert with other State Department bureaus, foreign affairs agencies and Congress, “sets worldwide priorities for the design, construction, acquisition, maintenance, use, and sale of real properties and the use of sales proceeds.” Overseas construction in the current century has featured an increasing focus on security and sustainability. Since 1999, OBO has completed 89 new diplomatic facilities and, as of April 2012, has an additional 43 projects in the design and construction pipeline. Many of these facilities incorporate state-of-the-art security elements as well as features that conserve energy, water, and other resources; some have achieved or are being reviewed for LEED certification.

Most of State’s headquarters and related functions are located in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington, DC and directly across the Potomac River in the Rosslyn area of Arlington, Virginia. State has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. General Services Administration, allowing them to focus their occupancy on these two submarkets so that functions may be clustered near the Truman Building. In the District of Columbia, this effectively exempts the State Department from the requirement to search the entire CEA for office space.

State has a number of large active real estate requirements.  Early this year it executed a 457,000 square foot consolidation lease at 600 19th Street, NW in Washington, DC.  It also has a number of substantial leases soon to expire in Rosslyn. In that market, in particular, State faces a significant challenge because it occupies two buildings which now rank among the most expensive in Northern Virginia.