WASHINGTON – The man in charge of all U.S. government buildings abroad announced his retirement on Wednesday amid questions over the construction of the mammoth new $600 million embassy in Iraq.
Retired Army Gen. Charles E. Williams, the director of the State Department’s Overseas Buildings Operations, told his staff he would be leaving Dec. 31.
He is the third senior State Department official to step down this year under Iraq-related scrutiny.
“He has now decided the time is right to retire,” deputy State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in a statement. “We salute General Williams for his service to our country and wish him all the best in the future.”
Williams, who was in the job for seven years, had attracted criticism for his management style, particularly over the high-profile Baghdad embassy project. The compound had been due to be completed in September but has been beset by construction, logistical and security hitches, and its opening has now been delayed until well into next year.
Officials familiar with his decision to retire said Williams was not forced to leave but made a point of noting that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accepted his resignation without hesitation.
Williams was brought into the department by former Secretary of State Colin Powell to speed up construction of new embassies and ensure they conform with enhanced security requirements. He is credited with streamlining the building process and bringing projects in on time and at or under budget. He oversaw the construction of 56 new embassies and consulates.
But Rice, along with other senior State Department management officials, had become increasingly frustrated with the problems in the Baghdad project. The controversies have led to the resignations of two senior officials prior to Williams.
The chief of the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Richard Griffin, to whom Blackwater reported, quit in October, just a day after a report determined there had been serious lapses in the oversight of private contractors in Iraq.
Earlier this month, the department’s Inspector General Howard Krongard left after being accused of impeding a Justice Department investigation into Blackwater and amid allegations that he ignored or covered up suspected problems with the construction of the Baghdad embassy.