Grace on Pace

Foreign Service European Bureau

Foreign Service Construction Engineer – European Bureau

My first three months working in the Foreign Service European Bureau as a Foreign Service Construction Engineer have been a whirlwind of on the job training and travel.  As a Construction Executive within the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations in DC, I focus on supporting Project Director’s in the field and representing the Construction Management division as part of the Core Project Team during design. A large part of my job is contract management, working with the Contracting Officers that issue and modify contracts. Whether it be a request to add work to the contract or an equitable adjustment to the contractor, we are responsible for all the technical requirements for the modification.  All of our projects revolve around supporting U.S. interests in the following European countries:

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Although we are not currently working in every country, the seven year average life span from design to accreditation has us working in many of them.  Most of the lime light goes to the large scale embassy’s and consulate’s under construction in our region pictured below, but the smaller projects tend to be just as much contract management work.

Oddly, my first trip as a diplomat did not take place in the European Bureau, but rather the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. As part of our on the job training, a colleague and I were sent to Suriname for a week to shadow a Project Director on a New Embassy Campus being constructed in Paramaribo. It was a great to finally see a project underway and experience what 400 workers can do in a day. Also, as an added bonus, our trip overlapped a milestone achievement and the corresponding topping out ceremony. To be honest though, one of the best parts of the trip was our layover in Aruba. Seven hours gave us just enough time to stash our bags and take a dip.

For my first real work trip, I traveled to Lithuania for a project I inherited from a colleague leaving for his first overseas post. The three-phased project is being implemented on an existing 10-acre site in central Vilnius, where site work of the major rehabilitation project included in Phase I was completed in 2010. Phase II, designed by Kling Stubbins of Washington, DC, includes the expansion of the Post Communications Center (PCC); heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), and sprinkler system upgrades; and egress. Since it was going to be a long trip, I decided to book Jennilou and Esmei a ticket to follow along. Despite working six days a week for most of the time, we did manage a few evening strolls around old town.

The highlight of the trip was a weekend getaway for Jennilou’s first Mother’s day. After renting a car in Vilnius, we headed north to Latvia, with stops at Trakai Island Castle, the Hill of Crosses in Siauliai, and Rundale to visit its opulent palace – the Baltic’s version of Versailles, built by the architect responsible for St Petersburg’s Winter Palace.

After a morning spent exploring the dizzying array of of decorated facades in Riga, we skipped east to take in the crumbling castles in Sigulda before making our way back to Vilnius.

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Despite the small sample size, as far as I can tell, I’ve found my dream job.  My colleagues keep telling me the only downside was the administration work while living in DC during their first tour. If this is the worst part, I can’t wait to see what’s next.


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Jeff Grace

I’d like to hope that when I leave this earth, my family and friends believe something about me giving as fully as I could. To the people I love and to the areas of culture that excited me to build things. Then a lot of dancing, loud music and talking about what an idiot I made of myself during that process.

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