Overseas Presence:

More Work Needed on Embassy Rightsizing

GAO-02-143: Published: Nov 27, 2001. Publicly Released: Nov 27, 2001.

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The Department of State is leading an interagency assessment of staffing needs in U.S. embassies and consulates to improve mission effectiveness and reduce security vulnerabilities and costs. This process, called "rightsizing," was begun in response to the recommendations of the Overseas Presence Advisory Panel. In the aftermath of the August 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa, the Panel determined that overseas staffing levels had not been adjusted to reflect changing missions and requirements; thus, some embassies and consulates were overstaffed, and others were understaffed. The Panel recommended a rightsizing strategy to improve security by reducing the number of embassy staff at risk. The Panel also recommended the establishment of a permanent committee to regularly adjust the U.S. presence, and the adoption of explicit criteria to guide decisions on the size and location of posts. A State-led interagency committee conducted pilot studies at six embassies in 2000 to (1) develop a methodology for assessing staffing at embassies and consulates during the next five years and (2) recommend adjustments to staffing levels at the embassies studied. The interagency committee formed teams that visited U.S. embassies in Amman, Jordan; Bangkok, Thailand; Mexico City, Mexico; New Delhi, India; Paris, France; and Tbilisi, Georgia. The pilot studies did not result in a staffing methodology at all embassies and consulates, as had been anticipated. The interagency committee said that it was impractical to develop explicit criteria for staffing levels at all posts because each post has unique characteristics and requirements. Contrary to the Panel's recommendations, the committee's report also questioned the need for rightsizing and establishing a permanent committee to adjust U.S. presence. The report did recommend the relocation of the regional finance centers in France and Thailand, and it identified instances in which additional study was needed.

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