Trade Agencies Should Enhance Collaboration with State and Local Partners
GAO-14-393: Published: May 21, 2014. Publicly Released: Jun 4, 2014.
What GAO Found
Federal and state governments share a common interest in promoting exports as a tool for economic growth and creating jobs. Both provide similar and overlapping export promotion services to similar clients, but their staffing, budgetary resources, and ways of measuring performance vary. Located across the country, Department of Commerce (Commerce), Small Business Administration (SBA), and state trade offices provide outreach, counseling and training, and trade leads, mostly to small businesses. In some states, state trade offices have more domestic staff than Commerce offices do. However, Commerce provides more overall coverage abroad, with offices in 72 countries, 15 of which have no state trade office representation. In the five states GAO visited, federal and state collaboration on export promotion varied from working closely in the same location to not collaborating at all, depending on unique factors in each state.
The federal interagency Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC) has three initiatives designed to advance federal-state collaboration in promoting U.S. exports by strengthening and expanding networks of state and local governments and other partners. Results of these efforts have been limited, however, in part because their implementation has not consistently followed key collaboration practices. In prior work, GAO found that collaboration is generally enhanced by following key practices, such as articulating common outcomes; agreeing on roles and responsibilities; monitoring, evaluating, and reporting on results; and coordinating resource planning. In the states it visited, GAO found weaknesses in the implementation of Export Outreach Teams, a TPCC initiative. For example, in some cases, activities were missing key participants and were inconsistent with the activities' objectives, in part because SBA is not fully monitoring implementation of the teams across its 68 district offices. Similarly, GAO found that TPCC's involvement in a Brookings Institution initiative to engage metropolitan areas in export promotion has unknown implications for federal export promotion efforts and resources because Commerce lacks a means to monitor the initiative's results. Finally, an agreement between Commerce (the TPCC Chair) and a national group representing state trade offices expired without achieving its collaboration objective or enhancing client information sharing so states can share credit with Commerce for helping companies make export sales. According to Commerce, by law, it cannot release its clients' confidential commercial information, and its policy is to make determinations on releasing information case by case, but it does not provide formal guidance to staff on what information sharing is allowable.
TPCC Initiatives to Promote Federal-State Collaboration in Export Promotion
Why GAO Did This Study
The 2010 National Export Initiative calls for the federal government to coordinate more with state and local governments and other public and private partners on export promotion. Recently, the TPCC identified three key initiatives to enhance collaboration among federal, state, and other partners. Congress requested that GAO review federal and state collaboration in export promotion.
This report examines (1) the main characteristics of federal and state export promotion efforts, including their collaboration, and (2) the extent to which the TPCC has advanced collaboration between state and federal efforts. GAO analyzed federal and state documents and data from 2012 and 2013; interviewed officials from federal, state, and other export promotion organizations; and visited federal and state trade offices and other relevant organizations in five states selected as a nongeneralizable sample based on their participation in the TPCC initiatives and other factors.
What GAO Recommends
GAO recommends that the TPCC take steps consistent with key practices for collaboration to (1) improve implementation of the Export Outreach Teams to better achieve their intended objectives; (2) enhance TPCC agencies' collaboration on export promotion with nonfederal entities; and (3) enhance federal information sharing with state trade offices, where possible, on Commerce's export promotion activities, for example, by providing formal guidance to staff on allowable information sharing. Commerce and SBA agreed with GAO's recommendations.
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Recommendations for Executive Action
Comments: The Department of Commerce (Commerce) notified GAO that it did not fully concur with GAO's May 2014 recommendation, preferring instead to maintain a case-by-case approach rather than issuing more formal guidance on federal information sharing with state trade offices. According to Commerce, as of March 2016, the agency was in the process of implementing a new client relationship management system. Commerce officials said that as future iterations of this system and public websites come online, they would seek to identify ways for clients to give permission to release information useful to other federal agencies, state trade offices, and other local service providers. In February 2016, Congress passed The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, Public Law 114-125, which requires that within a year of the act's passing, Commerce must develop a federal-state export promotion coordination plan that addresses, among other things, information sharing between federal and state trade offices. The act also requires Commerce and state trade promotion agencies to develop a framework to share information on export successes, and report to Congress on this framework within a year of the law's enactment. Later in 2016, Commerce officials began holding monthly calls with SIDO and state trade offices to share information on topics such as client intake, performance measures, and new federal export promotion activities. In March 2017, Commerce officials informed GAO that after further review of information-sharing limitations under the Trade Secrets Act, Commerce has determined that Written Impact Narratives (WINs) that have been approved for public use by the clients can be shared with State trade agencies. Commerce is currently developing a policy to ensure they are shared in a timely manner. In addition, the newly formed Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC) state and federal export promotion working group is expected to create a framework for information sharing. Without greater information sharing in the provision of similar services, Commerce will likely be limited in its ability to help ensure that export promotion services are efficiently managed across federal and state efforts, and that resources are appropriately leveraged.
Recommendation: To improve federal-state collaboration in providing export promotion services in accordance with the National Export Initiative, and the Export Enhancement Act of 1992, the Secretary of Commerce, as Chair of the TPCC, should take steps consistent with key practices to enhance, where possible, federal information sharing with state trade offices on Commerce's export promotion activities. This could include more formal guidance to Commerce staff regarding the circumstances, in light of legal restrictions, in which information can be shared with state trade offices and other nonfederal entities, and exploring ways for clients to give permission to release information useful to such nonfederal entities.
Agency Affected: Department of Commerce
Status: Closed - Implemented
Comments: The Department of Commerce (Commerce) took some steps to improve implementation of the Export Outreach Teams (EOT), as GAO recommended in May 2014, but it decided to take a different approach to improve state-federal collaboration at the local level. In March 2016, Commerce officials told GAO that they and Small Business Administration (SBA) officials concluded that EOTs had resulted in a successful exchange of information on program development, technical expertise, and new initiatives that was valuable in beginning a conversation among various stakeholders and enhancing existing communication, but because differences exist among communities across the nation, different collaborative mechanisms may be appropriate in different areas. As a result, Commerce and SBA determined that participation in EOTs was no longer a requirement for their local officials, and therefore they would not monitor the composition and meetings of the teams. Commerce noted that local Commerce staff annual performance appraisals include an element on coordination and interagency collaboration. Commerce instead implemented a state-federal annual coordination planning process to improve local communication and collaboration among state and federal trade agencies in response to our recommendations and a subsequent law. In February 2016, Congress passed the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, Public Law 114-125, that among other things required Commerce to annually submit to the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee a federal-state export strategy for each state that submits its export strategy to Commerce for that year beginning February 2017. A Commerce official said the agency developed a template for local officials to use with their state counterparts to jointly draft a state-federal annual coordination plan for each state. The plans cover, among other things, staffing, sector and market priorities, planned events and training, and efforts to reduce duplication of services between state agencies and federal agencies operating in that state. Commerce officials said they had plans for all 50 states and Puerto Rico. We believe that these actions increase awareness of available export resources and enhance both interagency and intergovernmental collaboration.
Recommendation: To improve federal-state collaboration in providing export promotion services in accordance with the National Export Initiative, and the Export Enhancement Act of 1992, the Secretary of Commerce, as Chair of the TPCC, should improve implementation of the Export Outreach Teams to better achieve their intended outcomes. This could include taking steps, including better monitoring, to ensure that key local participants are invited, that meetings are held as expected, and that the Export Outreach Teams seek to both increase awareness of available export resources and enhance interagency and intergovernmental collaboration.
Agency Affected: Department of Commerce
Comments: The Department of Commerce (Commerce) and the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC), which is responsible for providing a unified national framework for export promotion, have taken some steps to enhance federal-state collaboration in export promotion, as GAO recommended in May 2014 and as called for in a subsequent law. In February 2016, Congress passed The Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015, Public Law 114-125, which according to the State International Development Organizations (SIDO), contained provisions intended to enhance federal-state collaboration in export promotion. First, the act directs the President to establish a state and federal export promotion coordination working group as a subcommittee of the TPCC and appoint at least one representative from a state trade promotion agency to the TPCC. Second, beginning in February 2017, the act requires Commerce to annually submit to the TPCC a federal-state export strategy for each state that submits its export strategy to Commerce for that year that, among other things, addresses efforts to reduce duplication. Third, the act requires Commerce and state trade promotion agencies to develop a coordinated set of performance metrics, and report to Congress on these metrics within a year of the law's enactment. Fourth, the act mandates an annual survey and analysis, in coordination with state trade promotion agencies, of the overall effectiveness of federal-state coordination in export promotion. In April 2016 Commerce and SIDO signed a memorandum of intent to develop joint strategies and implement activities to enhance federal and state agency coordination and cooperation . In September 2016 Commerce issued a Federal Register Notice announcing the establishment of a state and federal export promotion coordination working group under the TPCC. The Secretary of Commerce appointed 14 members to this new working group in January 2017, which has met several times according to Commerce officials. The working group is developing a federal-state export coordination strategy that is expected to define roles and responsibilities, among other things. Successfully completing these activities is important, because without joint federal-state planning, programs at different levels of government will likely continue to be duplicative, and effective resource planning will likely be hampered.
Recommendation: To improve federal-state collaboration in providing export promotion services in accordance with the National Export Initiative, and the Export Enhancement Act of 1992, the Secretary of Commerce, as Chair of the TPCC, should take steps consistent with key practices for collaboration to enhance TPCC agencies' partnering on export promotion with nonfederal entities, such as State International Development Organizations and Global Cities. This could include reassessing and strengthening the TPCC's intergovernmental partnerships by clarifying expected outcomes, defining roles and responsibilities, monitoring results, and planning resource needs.
Agency Affected: Department of Commerce