Export Promotion:

Trade Agencies Should Enhance Collaboration with State and Local Partners

GAO-14-393: Published: May 21, 2014. Publicly Released: Jun 4, 2014.

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(202) 512-8612
gianopoulosk@gao.gov

 

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What GAO Found

Federal and state governments share a common interest in promoting exports as a tool for economic growth and creating jobs. Both provide similar and overlapping export promotion services to similar clients, but their staffing, budgetary resources, and ways of measuring performance vary. Located across the country, Department of Commerce (Commerce), Small Business Administration (SBA), and state trade offices provide outreach, counseling and training, and trade leads, mostly to small businesses. In some states, state trade offices have more domestic staff than Commerce offices do. However, Commerce provides more overall coverage abroad, with offices in 72 countries, 15 of which have no state trade office representation. In the five states GAO visited, federal and state collaboration on export promotion varied from working closely in the same location to not collaborating at all, depending on unique factors in each state.

The federal interagency Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC) has three initiatives designed to advance federal-state collaboration in promoting U.S. exports by strengthening and expanding networks of state and local governments and other partners. Results of these efforts have been limited, however, in part because their implementation has not consistently followed key collaboration practices. In prior work, GAO found that collaboration is generally enhanced by following key practices, such as articulating common outcomes; agreeing on roles and responsibilities; monitoring, evaluating, and reporting on results; and coordinating resource planning. In the states it visited, GAO found weaknesses in the implementation of Export Outreach Teams, a TPCC initiative. For example, in some cases, activities were missing key participants and were inconsistent with the activities' objectives, in part because SBA is not fully monitoring implementation of the teams across its 68 district offices. Similarly, GAO found that TPCC's involvement in a Brookings Institution initiative to engage metropolitan areas in export promotion has unknown implications for federal export promotion efforts and resources because Commerce lacks a means to monitor the initiative's results. Finally, an agreement between Commerce (the TPCC Chair) and a national group representing state trade offices expired without achieving its collaboration objective or enhancing client information sharing so states can share credit with Commerce for helping companies make export sales. According to Commerce, by law, it cannot release its clients' confidential commercial information, and its policy is to make determinations on releasing information case by case, but it does not provide formal guidance to staff on what information sharing is allowable.

TPCC Initiatives to Promote Federal-State Collaboration in Export Promotion

TPCC Initiatives to Promote Federal-State Collaboration in Export Promotion

Why GAO Did This Study

The 2010 National Export Initiative calls for the federal government to coordinate more with state and local governments and other public and private partners on export promotion. Recently, the TPCC identified three key initiatives to enhance collaboration among federal, state, and other partners. Congress requested that GAO review federal and state collaboration in export promotion.

This report examines (1) the main characteristics of federal and state export promotion efforts, including their collaboration, and (2) the extent to which the TPCC has advanced collaboration between state and federal efforts. GAO analyzed federal and state documents and data from 2012 and 2013; interviewed officials from federal, state, and other export promotion organizations; and visited federal and state trade offices and other relevant organizations in five states selected as a nongeneralizable sample based on their participation in the TPCC initiatives and other factors.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that the TPCC take steps consistent with key practices for collaboration to (1) improve implementation of the Export Outreach Teams to better achieve their intended objectives; (2) enhance TPCC agencies' collaboration on export promotion with nonfederal entities; and (3) enhance federal information sharing with state trade offices, where possible, on Commerce's export promotion activities, for example, by providing formal guidance to staff on allowable information sharing. Commerce and SBA agreed with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve federal-state collaboration in providing export promotion services in accordance with the National Export Initiative, and the Export Enhancement Act of 1992, the Secretary of Commerce, as Chair of the TPCC, should take steps consistent with key practices to enhance, where possible, federal information sharing with state trade offices on Commerce's export promotion activities. This could include more formal guidance to Commerce staff regarding the circumstances, in light of legal restrictions, in which information can be shared with state trade offices and other nonfederal entities, and exploring ways for clients to give permission to release information useful to such nonfederal entities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve federal-state collaboration in providing export promotion services in accordance with the National Export Initiative, and the Export Enhancement Act of 1992, the Secretary of Commerce, as Chair of the TPCC, should improve implementation of the Export Outreach Teams to better achieve their intended outcomes. This could include taking steps, including better monitoring, to ensure that key local participants are invited, that meetings are held as expected, and that the Export Outreach Teams seek to both increase awareness of available export resources and enhance interagency and intergovernmental collaboration.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To improve federal-state collaboration in providing export promotion services in accordance with the National Export Initiative, and the Export Enhancement Act of 1992, the Secretary of Commerce, as Chair of the TPCC, should take steps consistent with key practices for collaboration to enhance TPCC agencies' partnering on export promotion with nonfederal entities, such as State International Development Organizations and Global Cities. This could include reassessing and strengthening the TPCC's intergovernmental partnerships by clarifying expected outcomes, defining roles and responsibilities, monitoring results, and planning resource needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

 

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