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Audit criticises Swiss Embassy renovation in Washington

Published on 22/06/2020

The renovations of the chancery office building in the United States capital are too expensive, finds the Swiss Federal Audit Office (SFAO). 

In a report released on Monday, the SFAO stated that it was unhappy with the scale, cost and transparency of the project. The historical building is located at 2900 Cathedral Avenue NW, in Washington, DC. 

According to the audit report, no substantive analysis of the building’s potential was conducted for this project. Furthermore, the change of scale from a maintenance project to a comprehensive renovation project cannot be conclusively explained, says the SFAO. There was also criticism that the new concept is much bigger than the space utilisation programme drawn up by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). 

Another issue raised was the steep rise in cost which had doubled in three years during the preliminary project phase. Between 2015 and 2018, the project expanded from a CHF7 million (around $7.4 million) undertaking to a CHF14 million one – the amount for which a loan is currently being requested. 

The Federal Office for Buildings and Logistics (FOBL), which is responsible for the project, agreed with the recommendations of the audit office in its position paper. However, it felt that the assessment could have been done sooner as the project had already commenced. For its part, the FDFA stated that weaknesses and duplications had been identified and partially corrected. 

The chancery office building was designed by the New York architect William Lescaze (1896-1969), who hailed from Onex in canton Geneva and emigrated to the United States in 1920. It was built in 1959 but is not a protected historical monument. 

Renovation work began last autumn and is scheduled to last until 2022. The chancery has been temporarily relocated and continues to operate.