Federal government agencies have an important role to play in helping U.S. exporters, especially small and medium-sized businesses, sell their goods and services abroad.
In January 2010, the President launched the National Export Initiative with the goal of doubling U.S. exports over 5 years. The initiative directs the Export Promotion Cabinet and 20 member agencies of the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee to coordinate and align their export promotion activities, which include counseling, customer matchmaking services, and financing for exporters. The initiative lists other priorities including:
- Exports by small and medium-sized businesses
- Federal export assistance
- Export promotion of services
- Increased export credit
Figure 1: Actual (2009 to 2013) and Projected (2009 to 2014) U.S. Exports Needed to Meet 2014 National Export Initiative Goal
Note: The line "Annual exports to meet goal" represents the annual export totals required to achieve the 2014 goal of doubling exports over 2009 levels, assuming identical year-to-year percent increases. Under this assumption, starting in 2010, export totals need to increase by 14.9 percent over the previous year’s totals to double by 2014. Actual yearly export totals may vary from "Annual exports to meet goal." The "Actual exports" bars represent the actual annual exports from 2009 to 2013.
U.S. exports have increased substantially since 2009, reaching record levels in 2013, nevertheless they have fallen short of the levels needed to attain the goal. While federal programs continue to encourage more businesses to export more goods and services to more markets, coordination and management challenges across the many export promotion agencies could hinder their effectiveness in supporting the initiative’s goal. GAO has found, for example:
- The interagency Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee neither reports nor compiles information on how federal export promotion resources align with government-wide priorities. As a result, decision makers lack a clear understanding of the total resources dedicated across the country and around the world to, for example, increase exports by small- and medium-sized businesses.
- While the Small Business Administration (SBA) collaborates to some extent with other key agencies on its export promotion activities, additional collaboration could enhance agency efforts and reduce overlap among the SBA, Department of Commerce, and U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im).
- The U.S. Export-Import Bank, which supports U.S. exporters by providing loans, guarantees, and insurance, faces growing competition from counterpart export credit agencies in emerging market countries, which operate outside existing international agreements.
- Following the 2007-2009 financial crisis, increased demand for Ex-Im financial services resulted in rapid expansion of its portfolio. As Ex-Im adjusts to its expanded workload, weaknesses have surfaced in its analyses and reporting of exposure, risk, and resource needs, which hamper Ex-Im management’s and Congress’ ability to respond appropriately.
- The U.S. Commercial Service, the trade promotion arm of the Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration, has experienced weaknesses in its performance management, resource allocation, and workforce planning.