International Trade Commission:

Administrative Authority Is Ambiguous

NSIAD-92-45: Published: Feb 25, 1992. Publicly Released: Mar 24, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the International Trade Commission's (ITC) administrative operations, focusing on: (1) the chairman's powers and administrative responsibilities, as defined by 1977 amendments to the ITC authorizing legislation; (2) administrative problems relating to the budget, personnel, organizational structure, and creation of an ITC Office of Inspector General; and (3) comparisons of ITC administration with other independent federal commissions.

GAO found that: (1) under the current statute, the ITC chairman is the principal administrative decisionmaker, but the other commissioners retain a role in administrative decisionmaking to ensure ITC independence and objectivity; (2) ambiguity over roles and responsibilities resulted in recent chairmen believing that they were solely responsible for ITC administration, while the other commissioners believed that the entire commission was responsible; (3) disagreement over administrative responsibilities has caused problems in formulating and implementing the ITC budget, managing personnel, determining the organization structure, and implementing a new statute creating an Office of Inspector General; and (4) disagreements have also created conflicting priorities for staff and delayed decisionmaking. GAO also found that: (1) compared to 15 other major federal commissions, the ITC chairman's administrative power is limited; (2) the ITC statute's administrative override provision is unique among independent commissions, with most other commissions having more narrowly defined limitations on chairmen's administrative authority; and (3) options for changing ITC administrative decisionmaking include giving the chairman greater power in resolving administrative disputes, amending ITC administrative provisions to provide clearer authority, better defining responsibilities for budget decisions, and establishing an executive director position with responsibility for managing ITC.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: There has been an almost complete turnover in commissioners since GAO's report. The problems GAO identified have not recurred. As a result, Congress has not chosen to make any changes to ITC's statute regarding administrative responsibilities.

    Matter: Congress may wish to consider replacing the commission's current statutory administrative override authority with a requirement for commission approval of a chairman's appointment of senior personnel and of a chairman's creation, elimination, or movement of offices.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: There has been an almost complete turnover in commissioners since GAO's report. The problems GAO identified have not recurred. As a result, Congress has not chosen to make any changes to the ITC's statute regarding administrative responsibilities.

    Matter: Congress may wish to clarify statutory language that defines the budget and gives the chairman responsibility for the expenditure of appropriated funds within the broad guidelines approved by the commission in its budget request.

 

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