Army Corps of Engineers helps renovate world's second largest building
By Justin M. Ward
North Atlantic Division
BUCHAREST, Romania — Through a partnership with the U.S. European Command, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District will oversee renovation of the basement of the world's second largest office building -- Romania's Palace of the Parliament -- remodeling it to be able to accommodate a new training classroom and conference room.
When completed in fall 2012, the new facilities will be used by SELEC, the Southeastern European Law Enforcement Center, an international law enforcement organization formed in 2011 from the successes of its predecessor, the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative Center. U.S. presence at SELEC includes personnel from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Justice.
"As SELEC continues to expand, the need for additional personnel such as analysts and subject matter experts has arisen," said Harry J. Giknavorian, a DEA group supervisor at SELEC. "The additional office space affords SELEC the ability to host the additional personnel."
Brian Trzaska, a district resident engineer, has coordinated efforts between the contractor, SELEC leadership, and the Romanian government.
"The coordination between the partners has been crucial to ensure the day-to-day operations have not been compromised," Trzaska said. "Although the footprint is small, the overall impact of the project will have a large impact on the success of the SELEC operations."
Giknavorian added that the new classroom gives SELEC the ability to train the region's police officers from an international perspective.
"Both the DEA and the FBI have used the training facilities to train regional police officers in various facets of international organized crime," Giknavorian said. "Future training is planned."
The SECI Center was formed in 1996, when nine nations in Southeastern Europe signed an agreement to cooperate in preventing and combating trans-border crime, including organized crime in human and drug trafficking, commercial and cyber fraud, and terrorism.
In 1999, in the wake of wars in Kosovo and Bosnia, the SECI Center offices were officially established in Bucharest's Palace of the Parliament, which began construction in 1983. Although construction of the palace was complete, many parts, including the basement levels, were never furnished.
According to Bruce Totten, a EUCOM project coordinator, the original request for U.S. military assistance came in 2008, when a DOJ representative to the SECI Center sought funds to renovate space to support added U.S. and member country personnel.
The EUCOM-funded project, estimated at $730,000, will include new floor covering, wall finishing, and the installation of lighting fixtures. Existing furniture from the building's 10th floor will also be moved and installed in the basement.
An existing vehicle access tunnel in the basement will also be repaired.
"It has been an honor to work with the SELEC staff to assist their organizations to expand their space to train additional forces to fight terrorism throughout Europe," said Regine Mueller, Europe District project manager. "The staff has been very welcoming and thankful for our support."
Along with Canada, Japan, and 12 nations in Europe and the Caucasus, the United States has been an observer nation of SECI's, and now SELEC's, operations, and stands firm in its commitment to combat transnational organized crime and related threats to national security.
In a White House statement from July 2011, President Obama emphasized the importance of enhancing international cooperation to protect all our citizens from the violence, harm, and exploitation wrought by transnational organized crime.
"Despite a long and successful history of dismantling criminal organizations and developing common international standards for cooperation against transnational organized crime, not all of our capabilities have kept pace with the expansion of 21st century transnational criminal threats," the president wrote in the 2011 Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime.
Currently, SELEC is working on furthering member-state cooperation in transnational organized crime while relying on new information systems and updating data protection standards to be compliant with EU regulations.