International Trade:

Review of FAS Attache Service

NSIAD-89-73: Published: Feb 23, 1989. Publicly Released: Feb 23, 1989.

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Allan I. Mendelowitz
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In response to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service's (FAS) attache activities, focusing on: (1) FAS overseas market development planning activities; and (2) attaches' role in reporting and coordinating FAS activities, overseas posting, and staff qualifications.

GAO found that FAS: (1) generally considers present or potential markets for U.S. agricultural products as a factor in selecting its overseas posts locations; (2) assigned a large percentage of its staff to Europe to maintain U.S. exports to Europe and to concentrate on major trade centers, and increased its staffing in third-world countries to meet a projected growth in agricultural trade; (3) market planning and development did not incorporate benchmarks or measures for determining the program's success; (4) believes that an improved relationship between it and nonprofit commodity groups would enhance U.S. agricultural product marketing overseas; (5) planned to implement various external recommendations regarding its reporting requirements; (6) was responsible for planning and coordinating mission activities and arranging meetings between mission teams, private-sector representatives, and host countries; and (7) emphasized foreign language proficiency in its staff and training policies.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Guidance for 1991 through 1992 Annual Work Plans, sent out on December 3, 1990, requires the listing of main post goals and post plans to achieve these goals. Also, guidance for posts' "action plan" requires listing of specific activities and benchmarks for accomplishing priorities.

    Recommendation: To improve FAS overseas planning, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the FAS Administrator to have annual work plans include specific activities that allow for measuring the achievement of post planning objectives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: FAS information on language capability as of September 1990 for foreign service officers has improved since the report.

    Recommendation: To enhance attache performance overseas, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the FAS Administrator to ensure that attaches assigned to overseas posts are able to effectively communicate with host-country officials in their principal language.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture


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