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Highlights

The President has emphasized the importance of safety, efficiency, and accountability in U.S. government staffing overseas by designating the achievement of a rightsized overseas presence as a part of the President's Management Agenda. One of the elements of rightsizing involves relocating certain administrative support functions from overseas posts to the United States or regional centers overseas, which can provide cheaper, safer, or more effective support. This report (1) reviews State's efforts in providing administrative support from remote locations, (2) identifies the challenges it faces in doing so, and (3) outlines the potential advantages and concerns associated with providing support remotely.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of State 1. As State moves forward with its plan for expanding remote support and attempts to overcome institutional resistance to this process, it would be useful to concurrently assess and promote the potential full advantages in providing embassy support from remote locations, including potential cost reductions, improved services, or enhanced security for foreign service officers. Therefore, the Secretary of State should identify and analyze the various costs associated with providing support at individual posts versus at regional service centers in the United States or overseas.
Closed - Implemented
In May 2006, GAO recommended (Overseas Presence: Cost Analyses and Performance Measures Are Needed to Demonstrate the Full Potential of Providing Embassy Support Remotely, GAO-06-479) that State identify and analyze the various costs associated with providing support at individual posts and develop systematic performance measures and feedback mechanisms to measure the quality and customer satisfaction of support services provided remotely. Officials from State's Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI) told us that based on the recommendations GAO made as well as interest in the issues by OMB, State has taken a number of actions. In October 2007, State launched the Collaborative Management Initiative (CMI) to create uniform operating platforms and standardized support services for overseas posts. As part of the CMI, M/PRI worked with ICASS to standardize service definitions so that each post now has the same definition or description for the services it provides. M/PRI officials also told us that in January 2008, representatives from overseas posts met to develop uniform service standards for all posts. The standards allow for posts to compare their service performance relative to other posts and also the costs associated with the service. Posts have been asked to utilize the WEBPASS system to submit their service requests. The system will keep track of the request, the delivery time of the service, and also allows for the customer to comment on the service provided. The use of WEBPASS for services will be mandatory by October 2008 and should provide posts with reports of performance and customer satisfaction. Overall, M/PRI officials indicated that with CMI data State should be able to identify and analyze the various costs associated with providing support at individual posts versus regional centers.
Department of State 2. As State moves forward with its plan for expanding remote support and attempts to overcome institutional resistance to this process, it would be useful to concurrently assess and promote the potential full advantages in providing embassy support from remote locations, including potential cost reductions, improved services, or enhanced security for foreign service officers. Therefore, the Secretary of State should develop systematic performance measures and feedback mechanisms to measure the quality and customer satisfaction of support services provided remotely.
Closed - Implemented
In May 2006, GAO recommended (Overseas Presence: Cost Analyses and Performance Measures Are Needed to Demonstrate the Full Potential of Providing Embassy Support Remotely, GAO-06-479) that State identify and analyze the various costs associated with providing support at individual posts and develop systematic performance measures and feedback mechanisms to measure the quality and customer satisfaction of support services provided remotely. Officials from State's Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI) told us that based on the recommendations GAO made as well as interest in the issues by OMB, State has taken a number of actions. In October 2007, State launched the Collaborative Management Initiative (CMI) to create uniform operating platforms and standardized support services for overseas posts. As part of the CMI, M/PRI worked with ICASS to standardize service definitions so that each post now has the same definition or description for the services it provides. M/PRI officials also told us that in January 2008, representatives from overseas posts met to develop uniform service standards for all posts. The standards allow for posts to compare their service performance relative to other posts and also the costs associated with the service. Posts have been asked to utilize the WEBPASS system to submit their service requests. The system will keep track of the request, the delivery time of the service, and also allows for the customer to comment on the service provided. The use of WEBPASS for services will be mandatory by October 2008 and should provide posts with reports of performance and customer satisfaction. Overall, M/PRI officials indicated that with CMI data State should be able to identify and analyze the various costs associated with providing support at individual posts versus regional centers.
Department of State 3. As State moves forward with its plan for expanding remote support and attempts to overcome institutional resistance to this process, it would be useful to concurrently assess and promote the potential full advantages in providing embassy support from remote locations, including potential cost reductions, improved services, or enhanced security for foreign service officers. Therefore, the Secretary of State should use the cost analyses and feedback on quality and customer satisfaction to: inform post management of which services could be offered remotely, the various costs involved, and the quality of services offered; consider ways to improve the quality of remote support, when necessary; and determine whether additional posts, including posts that are requesting new U.S. officer positions in management functions, might be logical candidates for receiving remote support.
Closed - Implemented
Following the issuance of our report (GAO-06-479), State instituted two regionalization programs which offer voucher processing and other financial management services for all Foreign Service posts, through its Post Support Unit. These programs are headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, with units in Bangkok, Thailand, and Sofia, Bulgaria, and have provided cost savings and increased customer service, according to a State official. In 2012, GAO reported that State had implemented a wide variety of smaller scale innovations, such as improvements in management information collection and analysis, and had realized efficiencies through reengineering and reorganizing some business processes through innovations such as its Post Support Unit. However, State decided against certain larger-scale initiatives, such as relocating some administrative support services from overseas, which State estimated would save roughly $140 million over 5 years.

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