Export Promotion:

Personnel Management Issues in the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service

NSIAD-90-51: Published: Mar 16, 1990. Publicly Released: Jun 12, 1990.

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Allan I. Mendelowitz
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed personnel management issues at the International Trade Administration's (ITA) U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service (US&FCS), focusing on: (1) an update of its 1987 review; and (2) identifying new issues affecting services to U.S. businesses.

GAO found that: (1) since 1987, US&FCS has improved its personnel management system by clarifying its assignment, selection, and evaluation policies and by requiring more detailed documentation on personnel activities; (2) US&FCS appeared to have resolved morale problems identified in the 1987 review and anticipated further management improvements under its new director; (3) US&FCS still needed to limit its use of tour curtailments, since it could offer no justification for granting 4 of 25 curtailments occurring between April 1987 and July 1989; (4) to correct continuing problems with tour extension practices, the current US&FCS director approved a new tour length policy in October 1989; (5) since 1987, US&FCS has reduced the number of non-career limited appointments overseas, from 40 to 9 appointees, but has not completely eliminated its practice of selecting non-career personnel over career officers; (6) US&FCS and ITA still lacked guidelines for their personnel exchange program; (7) US&FCS could not justify its procedures for converting two limited employees to career status and selecting them over higher-ranking candidates; and (8) the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) did not have sufficient funding to comply with trade legislation requiring it to maintain commercial staff levels equivalent to US&FCS staff in South Korea.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Although Commerce indicated, in a July 1990 letter, that the assignments panel is committed to avoiding curtailments, no indication has been given that the current assignments policy was revised. The agency contends that curtailments are no longer an issue with the expanded size of the Corps.

    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the US&FCS personnel management system, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary, ITA, to revise US&FCS assignment policies on curtailments to require a written justification that explains why it is in the best interest of US&FCS to curtail an officer's assignment when other career officers are available to fill the position.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An operations bulletin addressing this issue was approved by the Director General and the Deputy Under Secretary for ITA in June 1990.

    Recommendation: To improve the administration of the US&FCS personnel management system, the Secretary of Commerce should direct the Under Secretary, ITA, to develop guidelines outlining the purpose, scope, and selection requirements for the ITA Exchange Program.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: US&FCS and AIT reached an agreement to establish a separate commercial section in Taiwan beginning in July 1991. Under the terms of the agreement, the section will be staffed by a complement of six officers and one secretary, in compliance with the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988.

    Recommendation: The Executive Director, AIT, needs to either seek through appropriate channels additional resources from Congress to ensure that commercial staff levels at AIT are equal with those in South Korea, as required by the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, or seek legislative relief from this requirement.

    Agency Affected: American Institute in Taiwan


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