Overseas Support:

Current U.S. Administrative Support System Is Too Complicated

NSIAD-88-84: Published: Mar 25, 1988. Publicly Released: May 4, 1988.

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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of State's administrative support to U.S. agencies located overseas, specifically: (1) State's administration of its support program; (2) agencies' satisfaction with the support; (3) the methods State used to distribute costs; and (4) factors adversely affecting the consolidation of various overseas administrative support efforts.

GAO found that agencies were uncertain about the: (1) extent of services they were supposed to receive through State's Foreign Affairs Administrative Support (FAAS) System; (2) cost of individual services; and (3) system for distributing FAAS costs among the involved agencies. GAO also found that: (1) although most agencies were satisfied with FAAS services, they were concerned about inexperienced or limited FAAS staff; (2) State paid salaries and related embassy personnel costs, telegraphic and information systems costs, security, and annual building operating expenses, while the agencies reimbursed State for various administrative support costs based on their subscribed services; (3) in fiscal year 1986, State paid $222 million in FAAS costs, while the agencies paid $78 million; and (4) agencies were unable to determine the reasonableness of FAAS costs. In addition, GAO found that: (1) diverse agency requirements often complicated consolidation of administrative support services that could have avoided service duplication and reduced costs; (2) under new legislation, agencies will pay the full costs of services received; and (3) if State cannot provide adequate services at a reasonable cost, agencies that voluntarily participate in FAAS will seek alternatives.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State implemented this recommendation in two countries. State may develop an alternative mechanism for other countries where use of FAAS services is relatively constant, resources are small, and attendant work load prohibitive. State plans to delay completion of work on this issue until December 1990. However, a new proposal might make cost-sharing based on work load mandatory.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should, in conjunction with the heads of other involved agencies, develop a revised administrative support cost distribution system that will eliminate the collection of work-load statistics in those cases where the cost of collecting such data is high in relation to the amounts being allocated and replace it with a per capita method to charge agencies for services to which they subscribed based on authorized staffing levels.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State generally agreed with this recommendation, and has stressed direct charging, whenever feasible, in telegrams to the posts, at budget workshops, and in responding to ad hoc situations raised by posts.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should, in conjunction with the heads of other involved agencies, develop a revised administrative support cost distribution system that will charge directly to a specific agency all substantial costs that can be attributed to that agency and make extensive use of functional coding of costs, particularly salaries. For those costs that cannot be attributed directly to a specific agency, State should use readily available work-load statistics to distribute such indirect or overhead costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State acknowledged that the severe shortage of administrative personnel overseas has been a major systemic problem requiring a long-term action plan. The Policy Planning Group approved a program to hire specialists in areas where acute skill shortages exists. State announced plans to increase the intake of administrative personnel to reverse the effects from having below actual attrition rates.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should ensure that each overseas post has enough skilled personnel on hand to provide adequate FAAS services by using any one or a combination of available alternatives, such as: (1) providing more experienced personnel to posts experiencing serious administrative problems; (2) providing some on-the-job training for inexperienced junior officers by having them serve in an apprentice capacity at a larger post; (3) enhancing training for certain specialized positions; (4) giving appropriate priority to training Foreign Service nationals at posts in less-developed countries; (5) contracting with other agencies at certain posts that are better able to provide a specific FAAS service to all FAAS customers; (6) giving priority to those with the requisite skills to fill chronic shortages of specialized positions when hiring new personnel; and (7) using Civil Service employees if Foreign Service Officers cannot meet specialized skill requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Undersecretary of State for Management, in a telegram dated July 16, 1988, called on every post to establish local FAAS Councils.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should establish a mechanism, such as a local FAAS working group, whereby State and other agency officials at each post can: (1) discuss local administrative support issues; (2) address problems, solutions, and better ways to provide services; and (3) monitor FAAS services and foster the delivery of high-quality, low-cost FAAS services.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Appendix B to Volume 4 of the Foreign Affairs Manual provides as much generic information as possible in a document for worldwide use. Since the quality and quantity of State administrative support services vary from post to post, responsibility to define the level and extent of available services belongs at the post level. The establishment of local FAAS Councils serves as the best mechanism.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should establish guidelines or standards outlining the level and extent of services to be delivered so that the quality and timeliness of such services can be compared to established expectations and goals and uncertainty about the services can be minimized.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Appendix B of Volume 4 of the Foreign Affairs Manual provides as much generic information on the FAAS system as possible in a document intended for worldwide use. The specific nature of the available support services vary from post to post. The establishment of local FAAS Councils, recommended by GAO, is a better mechanism to provide the information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should publish more definitive information about the specific nature of each of the FAAS services, including clear indications of the bases for which an agency will be charged for the various services.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As part of its new Financial Management System, State developed computer software for each FAAS council which automates the calculation of each agency's share of costs. In November 1988, State and AID began work toward implementing this process for fiscal year 1990 FAAS reimbursements.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should, in conjunction with the heads of other involved agencies, develop a revised administrative support cost distribution system that will inform each agency of the cost it incurs for each service or function on a location-by-location basis, provide agency officials at each overseas post sufficient data for them to ascertain how the cost figures were developed, and provide a basis for more effectively monitoring such costs.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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