U.S. Export Assistance Centers:

Customer Service Enhanced, But Potential to Improve Operations Exists

T-NSIAD-96-213: Published: Jul 25, 1996. Publicly Released: Jul 25, 1996.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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GAO discussed opportunities to improve U.S. Export Assistance Centers' (USEAC) operations. GAO noted that: (1) staff and customers at the four USEAC surveyed believed that collocating agency staff and nonfederal partner organizations improved export delivery services by increasing customer access to federal export promotion services; (2) although customers were highly satisfied with individual agencies' services, they believed that cooperation among agency staffs could be improved; (3) 40 percent of the customers who used a second USEAC agency found the agency on their own without help from their USEAC contact, even though some of these customers expressed a need for another agency's services; (4) some USEAC staff were reluctant to recommend other agencies' services because they were not familiar with those agencies' performance in service delivery; (5) to improve teamwork, USEAC directors believed that they needed to have input to staff performance appraisals with regard to intra-USEAC teamwork, a USEAC-wide client tracking system, adequate authority over USEAC expenditures, and a USEAC-wide accounting system; (6) three federal agencies were considering ways to give USEAC directors input to staff appraisals and plan to install an off-the-shelf client tracking system; and (7) the three agencies have agreed to allocate USEAC expenses based on a formula that reflects the limited capabilities of the International Trade Administration's accounting system, but they are working on a separate financial management system for USEAC.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to Department of Commerce and Small Business Administration officials, Commerce and SBA have agreed to allow USEAC directors to provide input to the appraisals of USEAC staff. There is no evidence that Eximbank has committed itself to this agreement. Appraisal input across agencies takes place at some USEACs on an informal basis. However, no formal mechanism has been implemented to facilitate this process.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce, working with the Chairman, U.S. Export-Import Bank (Eximbank), and the Administrator, Small Business Administration (SBA), should give all USEAC directors the authority to contribute to the performance appraisals of all USEAC staff with regard to intra-USEAC cooperation and teamwork (including development of an appropriate performance factor for staff appraisals and performance measures).

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Both Commerce and Eximbank are switching to Lotus Notes for their client tracking systems; SBA is switching to a system called Goldmine. The two systems are supposed to be compatible, allowing for easy interface with each other. Eximbank expects to be fully operational with Lotus Notes by September 30, 1997; estimates for Commerce range from September 1997 to early 1998, depending on the USEAC; SBA expects to be converted to Goldmine by September 30, 1997.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce, working with the Chairman, Eximbank, and the Administrator, SBA, should establish a USEAC-specific customer tracking system that contains information on clients and services provided to them.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Commerce, Eximbank, and the Small Business Administration have revised a Memorandum of Understanding to reflect a new flat fee system of reimbursement for USEAC expenditures. Lotus Notes is already being used to track costs at some USEACs and most of the USEAC directors have been given greater authority over their USEAC budgets.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Commerce, working with the Chairman, Eximbank, and the Administrator, SBA, should set up an accounting system that accurately tracks the full costs of creating and operating the USEAC network and, as part of that process, incorporate ways to give USEAC directors greater authority over USEAC expenditures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce


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