An Even Sorrier Spectacle: “Defending” the USA Pavilion

On March 8 Foreign Policy published “A Sorry Spectacle,” my reported essay on the serious problems, allegations, and questions, that have plagued the USA pavilion for Expo 2010 since the 2006 “request for proposal” [RFP] to build, design, and fund-raise the structure was issued in 2006. Yesterday, April 2, the Commissioner General of the USA pavilion, Jose Villarreal, offered what he characterizes as a “defense” of the USA pavilion effort in FP. I’ll get to his response in a moment. But first, the allegations, as outlined in my piece, are as follows:

  1. The State Department’s original RFP set the bar for building a pavilion so high that no reasonable bidder could be awarded the pavilion.
  2. After the failure of the RFP, the pavilion was awarded to two politically-connected individuals, Nicholas Winslow and Ellen Eliasoph, one of whom – Eliasoph – is related to a high-ranking Commerce Department official with oversight of China trade issues, in a non-competitive, no-bid process that was announced to the public only after its completion.
  3. When Eliasoph and Winslow were asked about the basis upon which they were awarded the pavilion, they gave contradictory answers [ie, someone isn’t telling the truth]
  4. USA pavilion Commissioner General Villarreal, who had nothing to do with the appointment of Winslow and Eliasoph, explained the Winslow/Eliasoph appointment by noting that “a lot of people aren’t there [at the State Department] anymore” and “a lot of what happened is kind of a blur.”
  5. The State Department’s Office of Inspector General has forwarded a private citizen’s complaint that touches on this selection process directly to the secretary of state’s executive office.
  6. The State Department’s noncompetitive authorization of Nicholas Winslow and Ellen Eliasoph means that the group’s architect and design weren’t subject to a competitive review, a highly unusual procedure in selecting any $61 million building [addendum 4/4: at the time the State department awarded the authorization to Winslow and Eliasoph, the building was budgeted at $84 million], much less one meant to represent the United States abroad.
  7. Eliasoph and Winslow raised almost no money from the time they were awarded the pavilion authorization, missed multiple construction deadlines, and, in the process, alienated large segments of the U.S. business community in Shanghai, as well as numerous Expo officials.
  8. In the spring of 2009, Chinese Foreign Ministry officials, concerned and frustrated by the faltering U.S. effort as led by Winslow and Eliasoph, were forced to make personal appeals to Clinton to fix the situation.
  9. The film featured inside of the USA pavilion was produced by long-time acquaintances of at least one of Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc’s founders [Winslow].
  10. Commissioner General Villarreal and others connected to the USA pavilion effort have declined to release the pavilion’s budget and books [though they are required to do so by IRS regulations governing non-profit entities like theirs].
  11. In two spring 2009 interviews, Nick Winslow informed me that he’d arranged a Chinese government loan for the purpose of keeping his group’s USA pavilion effort afloat.

Next, the unanswered questions: Continue reading