The Gun Almost Smokes, Pt. II: Potentially serious conflicts of interest at the USA Expo 2010 pavilion.

For more than a year, the USA pavilion at Expo 2010 has been shrouded in inexplicable secrecy. To this day, for example, the State Department won’t reveal the process by which Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc [SE 2010] – the non-profit it authorized to design, fund, build and manage the US pavilion – was selected; who and how a Canadian architect was chosen to design the US pavilion; or, for that matter, release a detailed budget on how SE 2010 was spending its $61 million in tax-deductible contributions. Unfortunately, the first two questions are still mysteries: the State Department, SE 2010, and the US Consulate in Shanghai have been obstinate in their refusal to answer questions on these matters. However, the last question – a detailed budget – received a partial answer last week when I published a cost estimate that SE 2010 had filed with the IRS in June 2009.

Readers will recall that the IRS documents indicated that SE 2010, Inc was spending US$23 million for the three short films that are featured in the USA pavilion (a sum that exceeds the cost of 4 of the ten Academy Award nominees for Best Picture). No surprise, the producer of the three films – BRC Imagination Arts of Burbank, California – is, according to the June 2009 IRS documents, the pavilion’s top-paid contractor [click to enlarge].

In the above document, BRC is promised US$10 million for Production Design/Fabrication; according to individuals associated with two other national pavilions, that $10 million most likely folds into the $23 million for “show construction & installation” in the cost sheet. In any case, no other contractor is listed in the IRS filing; BRC is the largest. Continue reading

How did the US manage to spend $61 million on an Expo 2010 pavilion? IRS filings offer some insights.

As regular readers know, for more than a year I’ve asked the USA pavilion at Expo 2010 (World’s Fair) and the State Department to provide me with a precise accounting of how they’re spending the US$61 million that they’ve raised from private corporations in the name of the United States of America. And, for more than a year, I’ve been met with either a) silence, or b) “we can’t do anything unless the pavilion’s board of directors approves it.” Even if the latter answer is sincere (and I’m pretty sure it’s not), the fact that several of the board members refuse to return my calls doesn’t bode well for my request.

So, rather than bang my head against the pavilion wall, I’ve decided to take a look at what the Internal Revenue Service has on Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc (that’s the name of the non-profit corporation that funds and manages the USA pavilion). And lo and behold, there, amidst a very interesting filing that I’ll touch upon in coming days, we find a June 29, 2009 document helpfully named “USA Pavilion Summary Cost Sheet.” Click the thumbnail document below to expand it.

It’s important to keep in mind that the numbers in this document were made a few weeks before the pavilion ground-breaking, and so they may have changed in the intervening months (then again, many of the numbers conform to what I and others have heard around town). Still, in the interest of accuracy and fairness, yesterday I forwarded a copy of the Cost Sheet to Martin Alintuck, spokesman for the USA pavilion, offering Shanghai Expo 2010, Inc the opportunity to comment upon, update, or correct any of the figures. Alintuck has not responded.

Meanwhile, over the weekend I shared the Cost Sheet with two individuals associated in similar ways with Expo 2010, and they were kind enough to provide me with their thoughts on it. Continue reading

How could this happen? A Reporter’s Guide to the USA Pavilion Debacle at Expo 2010.

Over the last two days I’ve received a sudden and unusually large number of emails and phone calls related to the USA pavilion at Expo 2010. Combined with the growing number of negative and caustic reviews of the structure, I’m sensing that more than a few people are looking for an explanation as to how the United States managed to build a pavilion that commentators at Huffington Post have compared to – among other things – “a supply storage shed,” “a temporary NASA administrative building, circa 1970,” and “a combination Bose Sound System/Air Purifier.” I’m going to use this post as a brief guide for reporters and anyone else interested in finding out more about how this happened, as well as a brief guide to what questions still need to be answered and who might be able to answer them.

But first – if you’re looking for a quick route to understanding how the US arrived at its current pavilion, let me humbly suggest “A Sorry Spectacle,” my March 8, 2010 piece for Foreign Policy. In it, I give a concise chronology of events, the key players, issues, and documents. Additional source documents showing the total lack of qualifications of the team selected to manage the US pavilion can be found on my blog, here. What that article and those documents won’t tell you is how a Canadian architect was chosen to design the US pavilion, much less who was responsible for signing off on the  selection. Alas, the State Department refuses to answer questions on that subject. So, what follows, after the jump, is a rough chronology of the early stages of the US pavilion – the period when the design and selection would have been finalizes – with additional links to relevant documents and stories, on the evolution of the US pavilion to help reporters get their bearings, and perhaps provide some leads along the way. Continue reading

The Sorry Spectacle of the US Pavilion at Expo 2010. But I still like the Expo, anyway. [UPDATED]

Today Foreign Policy publishes “A Sorry Spectacle,”  my history of the regrettable and often bizarre effort to build a USA pavilion for Expo 2010 [a/k/a, the World’s Fair] to begin on May 1, in Shanghai. Some of the material has been aired on Shanghai Scrap and elsewhere over the last year; much of it has not. The full FP story can be found here.

The USA pavilion saga is a difficult, murky story, and one that I haven’t always enjoyed reporting, to put it lightly. But, for the record, if my reporting has given anyone the impression that I’m somehow opposed to a US pavilion, I’d like to set the record straight. I’m very much for a quality USA pavilion, designed, selected, and built in a manner that displays the best of American architecture, design, and values. For reasons which I detail in the FP piece, I don’t believe that the 2010 US pavilion accomplishes that; rather, the design and machinations surrounding its selection, funding, and construction, have served to embarrass the US. Are we better having a poor pavilion than no pavilion at all? I suppose so, but that’s a sorry, sorry choice. Fortunately, I’m not alone in the opinion, and as a result there’s good reason to hope that – if the US decides to participate in Expo 2015 in Milan – things might be better. More on that another time. Continue reading