Foreign Affairs Management:

Major Challenges Facing the Department of State

T-NSIAD-98-251: Published: Sep 17, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 1998.

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Benjamin F. Nelson
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Office of Public Affairs
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed some of the major management challenges facing the Department of State.

GAO noted that: (1) State's management of its overseas real estate has continued to be a challenge; (2) State owns or manages more than 13,000 buildings and other facilities overseas, valued at more than $10 billion; (3) State has had difficulty identifying and disposing of unneeded property; (4) some of the unsold property incurred high operations and maintenance costs; (5) following congressional direction, State established an independent advisory panel to review potential properties for sale, and has significantly increased the sale of excess property; (6) the next step is for State to make sure that the proceeds from property sales are allocated to the highest priority needs; (7) State's information technology (IT) infrastructure remains in a very precarious condition; (8) State has outdated information and financial management systems and its current communication systems do not allow timely or secure transmission of information between its headquarters and its overseas posts; (9) State also has to improve its response to year 2000 problems and computer security weaknesses; (10) State is proceeding with a major effort to modernize its IT infrastructure; (11) it is doing so without first implementing the type of planning and investment process called for in recent legislation and related GAO and Office of Management and Budget guidance, which was developed in response to numerous failed IT modernization efforts across the government; (12) this guidance is designed to help federal agencies better manage their information technology resources; (13) State's failure to fully follow the guidance increases the risk that State's modernization program will not achieve desired results, will cost more than anticipated, and will take longer to put in place; (14) one of the more difficult problems confronting State is how to efficiently relocate its employees overseas, find suitable housing abroad, and provide household furniture; (15) millions could be saved while providing high-quality services if State adopted relocation practices used in the private sector; (16) the United States needs to reassess its strategy to protect embassies and employees and their families stationed overseas; and (17) in addressing this issue, several questions need to be considered including: the extent to which new property acquisition, construction, renovation, or other security enhancements may be needed to improve security; the potential costs of such security upgrades; and whether State has the management capability to enhance embassy security in a timely and cost-effective manner.

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