Department of State:

Human Capital Strategy Does Not Recognize Foreign Assistance Responsibilities

GAO-07-1153: Published: Sep 28, 2007. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 2007.

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Jess T. Ford
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The Secretary of State has made foreign assistance a pillar of the department's Transformational Diplomacy Initiative and has sought better policy coordination, planning, and oversight by establishing a Director of Foreign Assistance (F Bureau). Even though the U.S. Agency for International Development has been the principal agency for development and humanitarian aid, the Department of State (State) has had a significant role delivering this type of assistance. Thus, it is essential that State have the right staff, with the right skills, in the right places to carry out its foreign assistance management responsibilities and ensure that U.S. funds are well spent. As requested, this report (1) describes the size and scope of development and humanitarian foreign assistance programs managed by State, (2) describes State's approaches to managing and monitoring such programs, and (3) evaluates State's processes for determining its human capital requirements for managing these programs.

In fiscal year 2006, State had about $4.7 billion available for development and humanitarian assistance activities, nearly double the amount it was responsible for managing in 2000. This funding supported, for example, programs aimed at alleviating poverty and the suffering of refugees, as well as funding international drug interdiction efforts. State primarily uses grants and cooperative agreements to deliver this type of assistance. State manages its development and humanitarian assistance programs centrally, obligating about 80 percent of the funds and making awards from headquarters. State uses a variety of oversight approaches. Grants officers and grants officer representatives have formal oversight responsibilities, but other staff also carry out functions informally. A mix of headquarters and overseas staff monitor program implementation. State's strategic workforce planning does not reflect its foreign assistance activities. A key principle of strategic workforce planning is to define the critical skills and competencies that will be needed to achieve current and future programmatic goals. State has not defined its staff needs to manage and monitor its foreign assistance programs and has not collected critical information on current staff with these responsibilities. Moreover, GAO found inconsistent training and skills requirements for staff involved in foreign assistance oversight. For example, grants officers--who are responsible for the legal aspects of entering into, amending, and terminating awards--must meet educational and training requirements, while grants officer representatives--who are delegated some monitoring responsibilities--do not. Further, a recent State survey suggests that Foreign Service officers overseas recognize that there is a gap in their foreign assistance management skills. Various State officials have concerns about the department's ability to effectively manage its development and humanitarian assistance. Finally, State has not used strategic workforce planning to align F Bureau budget reforms with staffing and skill requirements.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2009, State Department Human Resources officials reported that the department determined and defined the high-level workforce competencies needed in order to effectively provide federal assistance as: strategic planning and policy, program management and coordination, project management and implementation, and training. According to the officials, State planned to use reports generated by its domestic staffing model and the results of a survey of overseas posts to identify which positions in the department, both domestic and overseas, required employees to have federal assistance competencies. In July 2010, State Human Resources officials reported that they were not fully satisfied with the reports from the and planned to conduct another overseas survey in the summer of 2010 to fully document the number of work years and staff positions involved in all aspects of foreign assistance programming. They reported that the information would be combined with domestic staffing data in a special data base that would compare employee training profiles with designated duties. In August 2011, State Human Resources officials reported that State had identified positions which had foreign assistance related duties and employees encumbering these positions. State provided spreadsheets that identified federal assistance workload by function, bureau, office, and for overseas positions. In addition, State has developed a database of all its warranted Grants Officers. According to State Human Resources officials, it can use the database to track and mandate training. State is also in the process of developing a Grants Officer Representative (GOR) database.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should take steps to define the skills and competencies the department's employees need to manage foreign assistance responsibilities, including developing information on the number and type of staff who are currently managing foreign assistance programs, their roles and responsibilities, workload, experience, and training.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State took a number of actions to increase training opportunities for staff with foreign assistance-related responsibilities. For example, the Department's Foreign Service Institute (FSI) is developing a distance learning course to be offered by the end of calendar year 2011 that will cover basic U.S. assistance principles and practices. The US Agency for International Development is cooperating with FSI on this project, providing subject matter expertise for the creation of the course. FSI is also creating a more in-depth classroom course covering these subjects, with a delivery target of early CY 2012. Finally, the Office of the Procurement Executive, the Foreign Service Institute and the Bureau of Human Resources worked together to establish a comprehensive grants section in the civil service training continuum.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should develop a strategy to address any gaps it identifies.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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