International Trade:

Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs

GAO-02-876: Published: Sep 24, 2002. Publicly Released: Oct 23, 2002.

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In 1974, Congress mandated creation of a private sector advisory system to ensure that representatives from private business and other groups with a stake in trade policy could provide input as negotiations unfolded. The hope was that such involvement would result in trade agreements that Congress could approve with confidence. The law established a three-tier structure of committees to advise the President on overall U.S. trade policy, general policy area, and technical aspects of trade agreements. Four agencies, led by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), currently administer the committee system. According to many negotiators, agency officials, and committee members, the trade policy advisory committee system plays an important role in U.S. trade policy and has made valuable contributions to U.S. trade agreements. Although GAO's survey of committee members found high levels of satisfaction with many aspects of committee operations and effectiveness, more than a quarter of respondents indicated that the system has not realized its potential to contribute to U.S. trade policy. GAO found that consultations could be more timely and meaningful and that the consultation process needs greater accountability. The structure and composition of the committee system have not been fully updated to reflect changes in the U.S. economy and U.S. trade policy. In general, the system's committee structure is largely the same as it was in 1980, even though the focus of U.S. trade policy has shifted from border taxes toward other complex trade issues, such as protection of intellectual property rights and food safety requirements. Leadership direction and administrative support by USTR and the other managing agencies have not been sufficient to ensure that the advisory committee system works reliably. GAO found that negotiators have used inconsistent approaches to solicit committee member views, with some negotiators not consulting with committees at all.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should provide sufficient technological and human resources to support meaningful consultations and ensure effective functioning of the system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), we recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make the existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, we recommended that the agencies provide sufficient technological and human resources to support meaningful consultations and ensure effective functioning of the system. USTR and EPA are making use of technology to improve the quality of consultations. In March 2004, USTR officials informed us that trade advisors under the committees may access a secure website to review documents. The USTR official further elaborated that the secure website facilitates meaningful communication. USTR, with the support of EPA, administers TEPAC.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should provide sufficient technological and human resources to support meaningful consultations and ensure effective functioning of the system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), we recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make the existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, we recommended that the agencies provide sufficient technological and human resources to support meaningful consultations and ensure effective functioning of the system. The Department of Commerce is now making use of technology to ensure consultations with committee members are more meaningful. For example, the March 2004 Operations Manual for the Industry Trade Advisory Committees establishes procedures for members to use a secure website to review and comment on confidential trade negotiating documents.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should provide sufficient technological and human resources to support meaningful consultations and ensure effective functioning of the system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Officials from USTR, Commerce, Agriculture, and Labor all stated that, in response to this recommendation, a new secure web site was created to allow all cleared advisors better access to important trade documents. This secure system was instrumental in providing advisors access to the final Singapore and Chile FTA texts, so they could prepare required reports to Congress. It is also being used for current negotiations, including the WTO, the FTAA, and CAFTA.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should provide sufficient technological and human resources to support meaningful consultations and ensure effective functioning of the system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: According to USDA, key negotiators are regularly attending committee meetings. In order to improve advisor access to key USTR officials, USDA has arranged to have plenary sessions among its policy and technical advisory committees. The frequency of meetings for USDA committees has also been increased from quarterly to monthly to meet pressing negotiating needs.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should provide sufficient technological and human resources to support meaningful consultations and ensure effective functioning of the system.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make the existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should provide sufficient technological and human resources to support meaningful consultations and ensure effective functioning of the system. The Department of Labor is now making use of technology to ensure consultations with committee members are more meaningful. For example, in January 2004, Labor officials provided GAO officials with memos written to committee advisors from the Labor Department noting that proposals for the upcoming meeting on CAFTA would be available on the secure USTR website two days in advance of the committee meeting.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more closely align the system's structure and composition with the current economy.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with the other agencies, should seek to (1) more closely align the system's structure and composition with the current economy and (2) better incorporate new trade issues and interests. In response, USTR and Labor reviewed the Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy's (LAC) composition and are updating LAC's membership to more closely align the committee's composition with the current U.S. economy and trade issues and interests. In September 2006, a Labor official reported that Labor and USTR jointly developed a proposal for updating LAC's membership after recently preparing an analysis comparing present LAC membership to the composition of the U.S. organized labor movement and the sectors of the present U.S. economy. This analysis revealed certain gaps in representation in terms of interests and issues that they recommended be filled with new membership appointments. For example, whereas organized labor had witnessed structural changes such as disaffiliation of unions from the AFL-CIO and a rise in independent unions, LAC's present membership was heavily drawn from AFL-CIO ranks. Moreover, services and intellectual property have become increasingly important issues in trade negotiations, and LAC's membership had relatively little representation of unions with interests in these issues. The Secretary of Labor and USTR approved new membership composition for the committee, and invitation letters were sent to the target organizations Sept. 15, 2006. The Labor official reported that the 22 organizations invited more comprehensively cover the cross-section of organized labor interests and include groups such as performing artists and professional engineers with stakes in new trade issues like services and intellectual property rights.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more closely align the system's structure and composition with the current economy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, GAO recommended that USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more closely align the system's structure and composition with the current economy. When developing the restructured committee system, the Department of Commerce analyzed the current economy and how it would relate to the committees--to ensure that the new system would reflect the current make-up of the economy. The changes to the trade advisory committee system announced by Commerce became operational in March 2004.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more closely align the system's structure and composition with the current economy.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. Specifically, in conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more closely align the system's structure and composition with the current economy. USDA, one of the involved agencies, appointed private sector members to seven committees (APAC & ATAC) in May 2003 and created a new Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for processed foods as exports of high value products have increased. The processed food committee met to discuss ongoing trade negotiations on November 12-13, 2003.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should continue to increase outreach efforts to fill gaps in committee composition and revitalize membership.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), we recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make the existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, we recommended that the agencies continue to increase outreach efforts to fill gaps in committee composition and revitalize membership. USTR re-chartered the IGPAC and appointed a new chair in February 2004. A USTR official also informed us that they were working with state and local associations such as the National Governors' Association and the National League of Cities to expand the geographic and issue representation of the IGPAC.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should continue to increase outreach efforts to fill gaps in committee composition and revitalize membership.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response, the Commerce Department noted that it has been able to increase the total membership of the Industry Sector Advisory Committees from 309 to 343 members. In addition, it stated that it is actively recruiting potential advisors from companies not currently represented in the system.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should adopt or amend guidelines and procedures to ensure that (1) advisory committee input is sought on a continual and timely basis, (2) consultations are meaningful, and (3) committee advice is considered and committees receive substantive feedback on how agencies respond to their advice.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs) we recommended that the United States Trade Representative, as the lead agency for the committee system, work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to make the existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should adopt or amend guidelines and procedures to ensure that (1) advisory committee input is sought on a continual and timely basis, (2) consultations are meaningful, and (3) committee advice is considered and committees receive substantive feedback on how agencies respond to their advice. The Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy (LAC) charter was promptly renewed in May 2006 to avoid disruption in committee operations. LAC members and liaisons with security clearances continue to benefit from access to documents posted on USTR's secure website, such as U.S. negotiating proposals, as well as "all hands" briefings held in the midst of negotiations, such as at the Hong Kong WTO ministerial. The LAC chair participates in the monthly conference calls USTR conducts to regularly update and seek timely input from advisory committees. In response to a desire for more regular and frequent meetings, USTR and Labor officials met with LAC liaisons and committed to resume holding twice annual LAC meetings as well as bimonthly meetings with liaisons. According to a DOL official, several such meetings have already been held. Labor provided examples of LAC input being considered and used. For example, according to a DOL official, before starting FTA negotiations, the United States conducts extensive labor consultations with a prospective partner at which it often raises concerns, seeks information and clarification, and discusses plans to improve labor laws and their implementation. In many cases, these are based on concerns expressed by LAC members. The consultations sometimes result in formal plans. For example, CAFTA a White Paper on labor was developed. USTR also is providing feedback on input received, arranging to have the U.S. negotiator of the FTA with Peru brief the LAC to more fully answer questions they had raised about the final agreement.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should adopt or amend guidelines and procedures to ensure that (1) advisory committee input is sought on a continual and timely basis, (2) consultations are meaningful, and (3) committee advice is considered and committees receive substantive feedback on how agencies respond to their advice.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response, the Assistant USTR for Public Liaison now holds a monthly teleconference with the chairmen of all committees. During this call, USTR provides feedback to the committees on previously raised areas of concern or recommendations, discusses USTR's long-term negotiating calendar to highlight upcoming issues, and allows for open discussion of general issues or concerns. USTR has also worked to improve the quality of consultations by providing, to a number of committees, more targeted briefings highlighting the areas needing input and discussion. In an informal follow-up survey to committee chairs, half of the ten respondents said that the timeliness of the Executive Branch's consideration of their advice had improved, and seven said that their opportunities to provide input to relevant officials had gotten better.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should adopt or amend guidelines and procedures to ensure that (1) advisory committee input is sought on a continual and timely basis, (2) consultations are meaningful, and (3) committee advice is considered and committees receive substantive feedback on how agencies respond to their advice.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make the existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, GAO recommended the agencies should adopt or amend guidelines and procedures to ensure that (1) advisory committee input is sought on a continual and timely basis, (2) consultations are meaningful, and (3) committee advice is considered and committees receive substantive feedback on how agencies respond to their advice. In response, USTR and Commerce jointly prepared a new operations manual in March 2004 for the newly restructured Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs) that develops rules governing the disclosure of classified and trade-sensitive information to Committee members and adopts procedures for consultation with and obtaining information and advice from the Committees on a continuing and timely basis. The manual also states that each committee will have a designated federal officer to follow up on oral and written recommendations and resolutions by members, ensuring that wherever possible a response is provided. Moreover, the new secure web site maintained by Commerce and USTR allows committee advisors outside Washington to review draft texts of negotiating agreements.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should adopt or amend guidelines and procedures to ensure that (1) advisory committee input is sought on a continual and timely basis, (2) consultations are meaningful, and (3) committee advice is considered and committees receive substantive feedback on how agencies respond to their advice.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response, USDA has developed a new system to help it schedule meetings so that advisors can provide timely advice and focus on the most pressing upcoming issues. For example, the frequency of meetings for USDA committees has been increased from roughly quarterly to monthly to meet pressing negotiating needs. In order to improve the productivity of the consultation process and advisor access to key USTR officials, USDA has arranged to have plenary sessions among its policy and technical advisory committees.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should adopt or amend guidelines and procedures to ensure that (1) advisory committee input is sought on a continual and timely basis, (2) consultations are meaningful, and (3) committee advice is considered and committees receive substantive feedback on how agencies respond to their advice.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs) GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative, as the lead agency for the committee system, work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to make the existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should adopt or amend guidelines and procedures to ensure that (1) advisory committee input is sought on a continual and timely basis, (2) consultations are meaningful, and (3) committee advice is considered and committees receive substantive feedback on how agencies respond to their advice. USTR, with the support of EPA, administers the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee (TEPAC). To improve the consultations between the committee and the agencies including member input, USTR, and the TEPAC members established a communications taskforce in 2004. As a result of the taskforce, USTR and EPA changed the format of principle's meetings to allow more discussion between the members and senior U.S. government officials and increased the frequency of liaison meetings. USTR officials informed us that this is the format through which they receive their most meaningful advice. USTR officials stated that committee advice is considered and provided examples. During the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement negotiations, one of the TEPAC members raised concerns about the illegal logging activity in that country. After the TEPAC member raised the issue, U.S. negotiators sought to address the issue with the Peruvian government during the negotiations, which concluded in December 2005. USTR officials assert that the resulting free trade agreement will contribute to efforts to address this issue. TEPAC input was a factor in the U.S. decision to re-join the International Coffee Agreement, USTR reports.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should continue to increase outreach efforts to fill gaps in committee composition and revitalize membership.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response, USDA had its committee liaisons/industry specialists examine current committee composition and identify gaps in commodity coverage, which they then worked to fill during the latest rechartering.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should continue to increase outreach efforts to fill gaps in committee composition and revitalize membership.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make the existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, GAO recommended that the agencies continue to increase outreach efforts to fill gaps in committee composition and revitalize membership. The Labor Advisory Committee has been expanded and now includes 13 union presidents. The expanded committee met on March 4, 2004.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should continue to increase outreach efforts to fill gaps in committee composition and revitalize membership.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make the existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, GAO recommended that the agencies continue to increase outreach efforts to fill gaps in committee composition and revitalize membership. According to a USTR official, the Tier 2 Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee (TEPAC) headed by EPA is "charging right along" and a number of new members have been appointed. It met in its new form on November 5, 2003.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more closely align the system's structure and composition with the current economy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No action reported.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more closely align the system's structure and composition with the current economy.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, GAO recommended that USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more closely align the system's structure and composition with the current economy. When developing the restructured committee system, the USTR, along with the Department of Commerce, analyzed the current economy and how it would relate to the committees--to ensure that the new system would reflect the current make-up of the economy. The new system became effective in March 2004.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better incorporate new trade issues and interests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better incorporate new trade issues and interests. In response USTR officials informed GAO in March 2004 that they invited state officials with specific skills to join the IGPAC (e.g., insurance commissioners). In the past, elected local officials, such as mayors and governors, comprised IGPAC membership.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better match agency resources to the tasks associated with the managing system.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. More specifically, in conducting this assessment and updating the system, GAO recommended that USTR, in conjunction with the other agencies, should seek to better match agency resources to the tasks associated with managing the system. Commerce and USTR reorganized their jointly-run trade advisory committee system. A Commerce Department official stated in October 2003 that the reduced number of committees that Commerce administers means that they will be able to reduce the number of agency officials working with the committees.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better match agency resources to the tasks associated with the managing system.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No action reported.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better match agency resources to the tasks associated with the managing system.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better match agency resources to the tasks associated with managing the system. In response, USDA created a processed foods ATAC and limited the membership of all ATACs to 35 each. The processed foods committee met on November 12-13, 2003.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better match agency resources to the tasks associated with the managing system.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No action reported.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should streamline the nomination and appointment process for committee members and prevent disruptions in the committee activity due to lapses in charters.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), we recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to make the existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically we recommended that the agencies streamline the nomination and appointment process for committee members and prevent disruptions in committee activity due to lapses in charters. In response, a USTR official explained to GAO in January 2006 that the agency has since given the FBI the responsibility for conducting security clearance investigations for the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee (TEPAC). Consequently, investigation timeframes have shortened. USTR, with the support of EPA, administers TEPAC. Previously, the Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Security Service conducted the investigations.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should streamline the nomination and appointment process for committee members and prevent disruptions in the committee activity due to lapses in charters.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response, Commerce now grants new advisors interim security clearances, if necessary, so that they can actively participate in the committee while the full clearance is conducted.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should streamline the nomination and appointment process for committee members and prevent disruptions in the committee activity due to lapses in charters.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response, USTR now grants new advisors interim security clearances, if necessary, so that they can actively participate in the committee while the full clearance is conducted.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should streamline the nomination and appointment process for committee members and prevent disruptions in the committee activity due to lapses in charters.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response, USDA now grants new advisors interim security clearances, if necessary, so that they can actively participate in the committee while the full clearance is conducted. In addition, USDA has hired a full-time security professional to facilitate security clearance for their committees' members. The two chairs of USDA committees that responded to an informal GAO survey stated that the time required to appoint new members had decreased. USDA has also taken steps to ensure that the rechartering process was complete by the time the charter expired so that committee operations continued uninterrupted.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better match agency resources to the tasks associated with the managing system.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. More specifically, in conducting this assessment and updating the system, GAO recommended that USTR, in conjunction with the other agencies, should seek to better match agency resources to the tasks associated with managing the system. Commerce and USTR reorganized their jointly-run trade advisory committee system. A Commerce Department official stated in October 2003 that the reduced number of committees that Commerce administers means that they will be able to reduce the number of agency officials working with the committees.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more reliably meet negotiator needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, GAO recommended that USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more reliably meet negotiator needs. The trade negotiators were consulted while Commerce worked on the proposal for the Industry Trade Advisory Committees. For example, the service industry was split up into several committees to better meet negotiator needs and finance industries were added. The results of the agencies' collaboration on these efforts culminated with the implementation of the revised industry trade advisory committee structure in March 2004.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better incorporate new trade issues and interests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: New advisory committees have either been proposed or created for new trade issues and interests, such as a new committee that focuses on processed foods.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better incorporate new trade issues and interests.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with the other agencies, should seek to (1) more closely align the system's structure and composition with the current economy and (2) better incorporate new trade issues and interests. In response, USTR and Labor reviewed the Labor Advisory Committee for Trade Negotiations and Trade Policy's (LAC) composition and are updating LAC's membership to more closely align the committee's composition with the current U.S. economy and trade issues and interests. In September 2006, a Labor official reported that Labor and USTR jointly developed a proposal for updating LAC's membership after recently preparing an analysis comparing present LAC membership to the composition of the U.S. organized labor movement and the sectors of the present U.S. economy. This analysis revealed certain gaps in representation in terms of interests and issues that they recommended be filled with new membership appointments. For example, whereas organized labor had witnessed structural changes such as disaffiliation of unions from the AFL-CIO and a rise in independent unions, LAC's present membership was heavily drawn from AFL-CIO ranks. Moreover, services and intellectual property have become increasingly important issues in trade negotiations, and LAC's membership had relatively little representation of unions with interests in these issues. The Secretary of Labor and USTR approved new membership composition for the committee, and invitation letters were sent to the target organizations on September 15, 2006. The Labor official reported that the 22 organizations invited more comprehensively cover the cross-section of organized labor interests and include groups such as performing artists and professional engineers with stakes in new trade issues like services and intellectual property rights.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better incorporate new trade issues and interests.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), we recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better incorporate new trade issues and interests. In response Commerce and USTR established the incorporation of new trade issues as one of four objectives in the 2004 restructuring of the committee system.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better incorporate new trade issues and interests.

    Agency Affected: Department of Commerce

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), we recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to better incorporate new trade issues and interests. According to USTR officials during a January 2006 meeting, the issue of fisheries subsidies has garnered significant attention at the WTO. USTR and the members of the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee responded to the increased interest in this issue by creating a subcommittee to study fisheries subsidies.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more reliably meet negotiator needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs) GAO recommended that USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with the other agencies, should seek to more reliably meet negotiator needs. USTR and EPA have taken steps to make the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee's (TEPAC) structure and meetings more responsive to negotiator needs. For example, TEPAC set up a subcommittee on fisheries after USTR Portman met with TEPAC in October 2005 to request input on this and other issues being addressed in WTO negotiations. Additionally, according to a USTR official, TEPAC meetings are scheduled to coincide with negotiations to more reliably meet negotiator needs.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more reliably meet negotiator needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In January 2002, we recommended (Foreign Languages: Human Capital Approach Needed to Correct Staffing and Proficiency Shortfalls, GAO-02-375, January 31, 2002) that the director general of the Foreign Commercial Service (FCS) adopt a strategic, results oriented approach to human capital management and workforce planning. As of July 2006, the FCS has taken a number of actions to respond to our report recommendation including completing a worldwide review of language designated positions overseas to more accurately identify existing proficiency shortfalls, instituting a pilot program to offer language training throughout the U.S. and not just Washington, establishing an award language incentive program, and developing a detailed corrective plan of action, which has been closely monitored and aggressively implemented.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more reliably meet negotiator needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), GAO recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. More specifically, in conducting this assessment and updating the system, GAO recommended that USTR, in conjunction with the other agencies, should seek to more reliably meet negotiator needs. USTR revised the advisory committee system by consolidating 4 Industry Functional Advisory Committees and 17 Industry Sector Advisory Committees into 16 Industry Trade Advisory Committees. According to a USTR official's October 2003 comments, one of the most important features of the new committee system is its goal to reduce the burden of USTR negotiators. The new system will reduce the number of meetings that USTR negotiators need to attend.

    Recommendation: In addition, USTR should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. In conducting this assessment and updating the system, USTR, in conjunction with other agencies, should seek to more reliably meet negotiator needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In our September 2002 report (International Trade: Advisory Committee System Should Be Updated to Better Serve U.S. Policy Needs), we recommended that the United States Trade Representative (USTR) work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor and the EPA Administrator to conduct an assessment of the entire system and update it to make it more relevant to the current U.S. economy and trade policy needs. More specifically, in conducting this assessment and updating the system, we recommended that USTR, in conjunction with the other agencies, should seek to more reliably meet negotiator needs. USDA officials informed us that they cluster all the agricultural committee meetings starting with a plenary of the Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee, then a plenary of all the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committees, and then break-out sessions for each ATAC. A USTR official informed us in March 2004 that this works well for negotiators because they can hold the date and consult all the committees at once.

    Recommendation: As Congress seeks to provide new direction to the President on U.S. trade policy, USTR, as the lead agency for the committee system, should work with the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce and Labor and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to make existing system's consultation process more meaningful and reliable. Specifically, the agencies should streamline the nomination and appointment process for committee members and prevent disruptions in the committee activity due to lapses in charters.

    Agency Affected: Department of Labor

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response, Labor now grants new advisors interim security clearances, if necessary, so that they can actively participate in the committee while the full clearance is conducted.

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