Foreign Affairs:

Perspectives on Foreign Affairs Programs and Structures

NSIAD-97-6: Published: Nov 8, 1996. Publicly Released: Nov 8, 1996.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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GAO summarized the views presented at its 1996 conference on foreign affairs issues, focusing on the: (1) changed environment for foreign policy; (2) influence and impact of U.S. programs; (3) role of multilateral institutions; (4) world trade interests of the United States; and (5) structure of the U.S. foreign affairs apparatus.

GAO found that: (1) a central theme that emerged from the 2 days of deliberation and debate was that the needed rethinking of U.S. foreign policy objectives, requirements, and structures has not taken place at the highest levels of the foreign policy agencies; (2) conference participants expressed a variety of views on the role and requirements for U.S. leadership in this transitional post-Cold War period, and they highlighted the complexity of assessing the effectiveness of U.S. policies and programs; (3) conference participants agreed that U.S. international economic activities need to be more clearly recognized as a new reality of international engagement that merits higher priority in the definition of U.S. national interest; (4) in addition, participants also noted that in this new era of constrained federal budgets, increased effort needs to be directed at improving management efficiency and program effectiveness; (5) the continued absence of a broader consensus on foreign policy objectives, however, raises the risk that the U.S. government may not have appropriate resource allocations, reflecting articulated priorities, or the structure to deal with many post-Cold War issues; and (6) the various themes and issues raised by conference participants suggest that executive branch and congressional attention should focus on the following topics: (a) clarifying and balancing U.S. interests; (b) determining what policy instruments work; (c) assessing U.S. participation in multilateral organizations; (d) scrutinizing the pace of management reforms; (e) measuring possible productivity gains from technological advances; and (f) coordinating and integrating U.S. overseas policies and programs.

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