Overseas Staffing: Rightsizing Approaches Slowly Taking Hold but More Action Needed to Coordinate and Carry Out Efforts

GAO-06-737 Published: Jun 30, 2006. Publicly Released: Jul 28, 2006.
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Highlights

In 2001, the administration identified the rightsizing of embassies and consulates as one of the President's management priorities. Rightsizing initiatives include: aligning staff overseas with foreign policy priorities and security and other constraints; demonstrating results by moving administrative functions from posts to regional or central locations; and eliminating duplicative functions at posts. This report (1) discusses the size and recent trends in the U.S. government overseas presence, (2) assesses the congressionally mandated Office of Rightsizing's progress in managing the U.S. government's overseas rightsizing efforts, and (3) assesses the process and outcomes of the legislatively mandated rightsizing reviews of overseas posts.

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Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of State To ensure that the U.S. government's overseas presence under chief of mission authority is accurately accounted for and to ensure that the U.S. government's rightsizing goals are being coordinated and that posts can maximize savings and gain efficiencies through rightsizing, the Secretary of State should provide oversight to ensure the timely development and use of a single database that accurately accounts for U.S. overseas personnel staffing numbers and has accountability measures to encourage posts and agencies to keep the database accurate and up to date.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2006, GAO recommended (Overseas Staffing: Rightsizing Approaches Slowly Taking Hold but More Action Needed to Coordinate and Carry Out Efforts, GAO-06-737) that State should provide oversight to ensure timely development and use of a single database that accurately accounts for U.S. overseas personnel staffing numbers and has accountability measures to encourage posts and agencies to keep the database accurate and up to date. State had been in the process of developing a better database but was moving forward very slowly and had not yet completed it. After our report, officials from State's Office of Rightsizing and the Bureau of Human Resources told us that a single gold standard database to keep track of U.S. government personnel numbers and functions overseas has been in operation since October 2006 and action to address our recommendation has been taken. The database, known as Post Personnel, tracks U.S. personnel overseas from all agencies. State officials told us that the data in the system is owned and maintained by the posts and that the Human Resource officers are responsible for inputting the personnel data. In addition, non-State agencies have visibility into the system and can take a look at the existing data and validate the information. State officials told us that audits of the data in Post Personnel are conducted in Washington and invalid information in the system is corrected. Moreover, State officials said that the staffing data they now have is significantly better than what was available two years ago.
Department of State To ensure that the U.S. government's overseas presence under chief of mission authority is accurately accounted for and to ensure that the U.S. government's rightsizing goals are being coordinated and that posts can maximize savings and gain efficiencies through rightsizing, the Secretary of State should increase outreach activities with non-State agencies so that all relevant agencies with an overseas presence can discuss and share information on rightsizing initiatives on a regular and continuous basis.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2006, GAO recommended (Overseas Staffing: Rightsizing Approaches Slowly Taking Hold but More Action Needed to Coordinate and Carry Out Efforts, GAO-06-737) that State should increase outreach activities with non-State agencies so that all relevant agencies with an overseas presence can discuss and share information on rightsizing initiatives on a regular and continuous basis. In June 2008, officials in State's Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation (M/PRI) told us that they established a number of continuous outreach activities with agencies with an overseas presence. For example, they told us that the Office of Rightsizing is now in daily contact with agencies with an overseas presence on topics related to rightsizing issues and that the office has given presentations at a number of OBO meetings which generally have participants from all agencies with an overseas presence. In addition to the meetings and contacts with non-State agencies, the Office of Rightsizing has sent out guidance to overseas posts on rightsizing issues as well as published information on State's website with detailed guidance for agencies. Moreover, since our initial work with the Office of Rightsizing in 2006, the acting director of the office told us that there were plans to hold an interagency rightsizing summit in fall 2008 where agencies could discuss rightsizing initiatives and issues on a continuous basis. Since our report, M/PRI has held several summits. State officials told us that the summits are generally held twice yearly - in the spring and fall - and cover topics such as the ongoing rightsizing activities, including how to accomplish programmatic rightsizing overseas.
Department of State To ensure that the U.S. government's overseas presence under chief of mission authority is accurately accounted for and to ensure that the U.S. government's rightsizing goals are being coordinated and that posts can maximize savings and gain efficiencies through rightsizing, the Secretary of State should require that posts develop action plans to transition to and meet the agreed upon outcomes of their rightsizing reviews. This could include developing milestones for posts reaching agreement on streamlining and eliminating duplicative functions.
Closed - Implemented
In June 2006, GAO recommended (Overseas Staffing: Rightsizing Approaches Slowly Taking Hold but More Action Needed to Coordinate and Carry Out Efforts, GAO-06-737) that State require that posts develop action plans to transition to and meet the agreed upon outcomes of their rightsizing reviews. A rightsizing review eliminates or justifies any duplicative or parallel functions currently at posts, considers the possibilities for reducing U.S. Government employees by taking advantage or regionalized services, determines whether some jobs can be performed by locally engaged staff, and outsources non-core and non-governmental functions as appropriate. In June 2008, officials in State's Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing and Innovation told us that they now require posts to provide the office with action plans in response to the posts' rightsizing review, six months after the review has been completed. The plan includes actions completed and pending in staffing changes related to consolidation, competitive sourcing, and regionalization.

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