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International affairs

Despite restructuring, overlapping roles and functions still exist at State's Arms Control and Nonproliferation Bureaus

Why Area Is Important


State assumed direct responsibility for arms control, nonproliferation, and disarmament issues in 1999 and established three bureaus to perform these missions. In 2004, the Department of State (State) Inspector General (IG) concluded that State's three-bureau structure for conducting arms control and nonproliferation policy—the bureaus for Arms Control (AC), Nonproliferation (NP), and Verification and Compliance (VC)—did not adequately address post-September 11 challenges, including possible terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction. The IG also noted that State had yet to formalize the responsibilities of the three bureaus in its Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), which sets out agency organization and functions. Between late 2005 and early 2006, State created a new two-bureau structure—the bureaus for International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) and Verification, Compliance and Implementation (VCI)—to better address these issues and improve efficiency. In July 2009, GAO documented continuing problems with the department's reorganization of these bureaus.

What GAO Found

GAO's 2009 review of the reorganization of State bureaus responsible for nonproliferation activities found that the lack of clear guidance in the FAM contributed to past and current overlap problems among the AC, NP, and VC bureaus (referred to as T bureaus). Despite previous reorganization efforts, the fragmentation, overlap, and redundancies continue to exist among the T bureaus. This may be due somewhat to the lack of clear guidance in the department's FAM.

In 2004, the State IG identified a number of areas of overlap among the T bureaus. The overlap included multiple bureau reporting channels for some U.S. international conference representatives and treaty negotiators, and unclear and conflicting demarcation of responsibilities between AC and NP for their South Asia and North Korea issues. State's objectives of the 2006 reorganization were to eliminate overlap among the bureaus, missions, and issues; reduce bureaucratic inefficiencies and top-heavy management; and enable the department to better focus on post-September 11 challenges.

State officials noted that the reorganization undertaken in 2006 addressed some organizational redundancies. Specifically, State reduced the number of offices, functions, and staff slots when it merged its three-bureau structure for conducting arms control and nonproliferation policy into a two-bureau structure. However, a May 2006 State study on workforce allocation conducted after the reorganization found that mission redundancies persisted for chemical weapons, missile defense and space policy, nuclear nonproliferation, and bioterrorism issues among 14 offices and functions of the new ISN and VCI bureaus.

GAO's 2009 review of the reorganization found that the lack of clear guidance in the FAM contributed to past and current overlap problems among the T bureaus. As a result, concerns about mission overlaps persist; State employees stated that some offices remain overworked while others are underworked. The section of the manual detailing the roles and responsibilities of these bureaus had never been drafted and approved since the 1999 incorporation of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency into State and the creation of the AC, NP, and VC bureaus. A State official on the panel responsible for assigning roles and missions under the new two-bureau structure stated that their deliberations were hindered by the lack of an up-to-date FAM. The department agreed with GAO's 2009 recommendation that it delineate the roles and responsibilities for the ISN and VCI bureaus and add them to the FAM. On October 1, 2010, State announced a new reorganization of its arms control and nonproliferation functions, with the goal of improving and revitalizing efforts to enhance U.S. national security by effectively addressing global nuclear, chemical, biological, and conventional weapons threats. However, as of January 2011, State has not modified the FAM.

Actions Needed

State should implement GAO's recommendations to (1) formally delineate in the FAM the roles of the two new bureaus, and (2) direct that key transformation practices and steps be incorporated into the FAM. Implementing these recommendations could reduce personnel and other overhead costs by helping the T bureaus address the multiple mission redundancies identified among the offices and functions of the new ISN and VCI bureaus. The fiscal year 2010 appropriations for the ISN and VCI bureaus were $48.9 million and $31.0 million, respectively.

Framework for Analysis

The information contained in this analysis is based on the related product identified under the "Related GAO Products" tab.

Area Contact

For additional information about this area, contact Joseph Christoff at (202) 512-8979 or

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