U.S. Export Assistance Centers Seek To Improve Services
NSIAD-99-180, Jun 25, 1999
Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the activities of the U.S. Export Assistance Centers (USEAC) network, focusing on: (1) the nature of coordination among the federal agencies participating in the USEAC network and between these agencies and nonfederal export-service providers; and (2) USEAC assistance to firms that export services and to firms that are not ready to export but show potential and interest in doing so. The three federal agencies participating in the USEAC network include the Department of Commerce, the Export-Import Bank, and the Small Business Administration (SBA).
GAO noted that: (1) USEAC have sought to promote coordination among participating agencies through such activities as making joint calls on prospective clients and sharing information on clients and services, where appropriate; (2) for fiscal year (FY) 1998, nearly 20 percent of the export actions reported by USEAC trade specialists mentioned a partner as having participated in assisting the client; (3) 5 of the 19 USEACs have staff from all three agencies, and 14 sites have staff from Commerce and SBA; (4) in FY 1998, Commerce staff began using a new Client Management System to track clients that has the potential to further enhance information sharing among these partner agencies; (5) access to this system could potentially permit agencies to better target services to client needs; (6) the USEACs have also pursued partnerships with nonfederal export-service providers--state and local government, nonprofit, and for-profit organizations that provide assistance to exporters; (7) the USEACs have co-located their staff in the same office suite or building with these export-service providers or, otherwise, made arrangements to coordinate their export assistance; (8) in response to an October Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC) initiative, Commerce has sought through the USEACs to expand its assistance to firms that export services; (9) the agency created an inter-USEAC Services Team, comprised of staff from USEACs and foreign posts, to devise means to do so; (10) the team found that Commerce's export promotion programs were largely designed for firms that export goods and are often unavailable or inappropriate for firms that export services; (11) as part of this effort, selected USEACs have taken the initiative to use other approaches; (12) TPCC has affirmed the central role of the USEAC network in assisting small- and medium-sized enterprises; (13) many such firms, however, are not yet ready to export; (14) since assisting them can be time consuming, USEACs generally refer them to nonfederal partner organizations that specialize in helping such firms; (15) but no formal mechanism existed for USEAC staff to follow up with firms that had been referred to nonfederal partners; (16) some USEACs are beginning to use a special program developed by SBA, which is tailored to the particular needs of such firms; and (17) firms participating in this program have become customers for USEAC export promotion and finance services and, ultimately, exporters.