Better Information Needed about Federal Resources
GAO-13-644: Published: Jul 17, 2013. Publicly Released: Aug 14, 2013.
What GAO Found
The interagency Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC) neither reports nor compiles information on how federal export promotion resources align with government-wide priorities. As a result, decision makers lack a clear understanding of the total resources dedicated across the country and around the world by TPCC member agencies to priority areas, such as increasing exports by small- and medium-sized businesses. GAO has previously reported that effective national strategies should address costs and has found shortcomings in the committee's response to the budget-related portions of its mandate. While the TPCC's National Export Strategy reports issued since initiation of the National Export Initiative (NEI) outline government-wide priorities and progress in achieving them, they do not discuss how resources are allocated in support of these priorities. Despite the current emphasis on export promotion as a high-priority goal, recent strategies have provided less information on budget resources than have previous strategies, as shown below. The TPCC last publicly reported a summary budget table in 2008. TPCC secretariat officials acknowledged that the TPCC agencies currently place little emphasis on displaying or discussing agencies' resources in the National Export Strategy.
The TPCC last compiled high-level data on member agencies' budget authority in 2011, but this information is not useful for assessing resource allocations. To be useful, data should, among other things, be consistent and sufficiently complete for the intended purpose. However, the TPCC's data are inconsistent across agencies and not detailed enough to facilitate an understanding or comparison of how resources are allocated among priorities. TPCC agencies do not use a common definition of export promotion, so it is unclear why some agencies are included in the TPCC's data and others are not, and the TPCC's data are not current. Although agency accounting systems and budget processes differ, which presents challenges, clear guidance for agencies on what information they should provide the TPCC could improve the quality of the data. Without better information on agencies' export promotion resources, decision makers cannot determine whether the federal investment in export promotion is being used effectively or make informed decisions about future resource decisions.
Why GAO Did This Study
In 2010, the President launched the NEI with the goal of doubling U.S. exports over 5 years. More than 2 decades ago, Congress directed the President to establish the TPCC to provide a unifying framework for federal efforts in this area. Among other things, Congress directed the TPCC to assess the appropriate levels and allocations of resources and develop a government-wide strategic plan that identifies federal export promotion priorities, reviews current programs in light of these priorities, and proposes to the President a federal trade promotion budget that supports the plan. Congress also required the TPCC to submit annual reports to Congress describing the required strategic plan.
This report assesses the extent to which the TPCC compiles and reports information on how federal export promotion resources are aligned with export promotion priorities. GAO reviewed the laws governing the TPCC and good practices for interagency initiatives, analyzed TPCC budget data and documents, and interviewed TPCC secretariat and Office of Management and Budget staff.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that TPCC (1) develop and distribute guidance for member agencies on what information they should provide the TPCC on the resources they spend on export promotion activities; and (2) report in its National Export Strategies on how resources are allocated by agency and aligned with the strategy's priorities. The TPCC secretariat agreed with our recommendations and stated it plans to take steps to address them.
Recommendations for Executive Action
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: The Department of Commerce agreed with the recommendation and, in response to GAO's recommendation, has taken action to develop and distribute guidance to member agencies. In August 2013, the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC) Secretariat developed and distributed to member agencies a paper outlining definitions of export promotion activities for the purposes of properly identifying member agencies' budget data. The TPCC started a budget working group and discussed the paper at its first meeting, which included discussing some of the challenges to compiling budget information, as well as some ways to address those challenges.
Recommendation: To improve the consistency, comprehensiveness, and transparency of information provided to Congress and policymakers on the federal investment in export promotion programs, the Secretary of Commerce, as chair of the TPCC, should develop and distribute guidance for member agencies on what information they should provide the TPCC on the resources they spend on export promotion activities.
Agency Affected: Department of Commerce
Comments: The Export Enhancement Act [15 U.S.C. Section 4727(c)] states that the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee's (TPCC) strategies should establish a set of priorities for federal export promotion activities and propose a unified federal trade promotion budget that supports the plan. In written comments on GAO's report, the Director of the TPCC Secretariat generally concurred with the recommendation on behalf of the Secretary. Nevertheless, the Director noted the TPCC's limited authority over budget reporting and resource allocations and gave examples of some challenges they faced, including shifts in the political and budgetary landscape and how different Administrations and Congresses have emphasized different priorities over time. In the four years since GAO's 2013 report, the TPCC did not report in its National Export Strategies (NES) on how resources are allocated by agency and aligned with the strategy's priorities. The TPCC did not issue strategies in fiscal years 2014, 2015, or 2017, but did issue one in 2016, however it did not include any budget information. As of March 2018, no new National Export Strategy has been issued.
Recommendation: To improve the consistency, comprehensiveness, and transparency of information provided to Congress and policymakers on the federal investment in export promotion programs, the Secretary of Commerce, as chair of the TPCC, should report in its National Export Strategies on how resources are allocated by agency and aligned with priorities.
Agency Affected: Department of Commerce