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State Department approves $700G gardening contract in Belgium despite sequester warnings

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Shown in the inset is Truman Hall, home of the U.S. ambassador to NATO in Belgium. (AP/State Department)

Around the same time the State Department was warning the public about the painful pinch from sequester cuts, it was also signing off on a $700,000 gardening contract at the home of a U.S. ambassador in Belgium, federal documents show.

The March 11 contract for the U.S. Mission in Brussels includes $134,744 in the first year for grass cutting, weeding, trimming and other landscaping services at Truman Hall. It also calls for planting nearly 1,000 violas, begonias and tulips at NATO Ambassador Ivo Daalder’s home.  

The total amount of the contract awarded to Brussels-based landscaping company Iris Greencare stretches to up to $704,198 over a four-year period.

“Maintenance and appearance of the grass, shrubbery, garden areas, trees and related landscape elements of the U.S. Post and properties are an important part of the representational responsibilities of the U.S. mission,” the contract states.

The U.S. is also shelling out money for 36 window box planters and 1,008 different kinds of vegetation including 60 Hedera, 72 Skimmia japonica rubella and 504 Pelagorium Peltatum, or ivy geranium. 

The government argues the upkeep is needed because Truman Hall hosts diplomats and other guests from 28 NATO nations around the world. U.S. missions and embassies are expected to be maintained, as their appearance reflects on America. But some could question spending so much money on shrubbery especially at a time when the State Department issued warnings that cuts from sequestration would result in scaling back security at foreign facilities and assistance to U.S. allies.  

In a five-page letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, Kerry said sequestration would cut $2.6 billion from the department's 2013 budget. 

“Reductions in funding would jeopardize the Department’s efforts to provide secure, error-free travel documents to those eligible to receive them, while denying them to those not eligible,” Kerry wrote in the Feb. 11 letter.“Reduced funding would also undermine progress made in ensuring that visa requests are processed in a timely fashion.” 

The landscaping contract was first reported by CNSNews.com. 

Truman Hall, named after former President Harry Truman, was built in 1963 by Architect B.A. Jacquemotte and Landscape Architect René Pechère. According to the State Department’s web site, the 28-acre property consists of several gardens, meadows and a lawn pavilion. The entry hall is paved in “pierre bleu” Belgian black marble, with “wide and inviting” corridors and a library with “fine 18th century wood paneling.”

The State Department is also shopping for landscaping services for U.S. embassies in Santiago, Chile; Bangkok, Thailand; and in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Multiple calls to the State Department and emails to Iris Greencare for comment were not returned.