The Results Act:

Observations on USTR's September 1996 Draft Strategic Plan

NSIAD-97-199R: Published: Jul 18, 1997. Publicly Released: Aug 5, 1997.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the draft strategic plan submitted by the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) as required by the Government Performance and Results Act.

GAO noted that: (1) USTR's draft strategic plan of September 1996 is incomplete and will require considerable revision before it meets all of the Results Act's requirements and the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) guidelines; (2) the draft plan meets the requirements of the Results Act in only two of six areas; (3) specifically, the plan provides a mission statement and key external factors that could affect achievement of agency goals; (4) however, the plan does not meet the requirements for presenting general goals and objectives or for describing how they will be achieved or how they relate to performance goals and program evaluations; (5) furthermore, the plan does not follow the detailed OMB guidance for drafting strategic plans in many respects; (6) the plan can be improved in additional areas, as well; (7) USTR's plan does broadly cover all the agency's major statutory functions; (8) GAO believes it could be improved by explicitly reflecting the agency's growing responsibility for monitoring foreign governments' compliance with trade agreements; (9) this version of USTR's plan includes the agency's crosscutting activities but does not reflect the results of consultations with interested parties, including other federal agencies; (10) the draft plan acknowledges this omission, and USTR officials told GAO that these consultations were taking place; (11) coordination is an important part of USTR's mission, and Congress has been concerned with fragmented organization of trade functions among various agencies; (12) USTR's draft plan describes a serious management challenge that the agency will face during 1997-2002 but does not contain a strategy for dealing with that challenge; (13) according to the plan, the agency must manage growing workloads with reduced resources, but the plan does not indicate how it will respond to this challenge; (14) GAO has not done any work to assess the agency's capacity to provide the data necessary to measure progress in achieving any goals and objectives nor whether its information systems need to be improved to allow it to do so; and (15) once USTR refines the plan's goals and objectives, it will need to evaluate its ability to gather the information essential to measure its progress in achieving its goals and objectives.

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