Overseas Presence:

Cost Analyses and Performance Measures Are Needed to Demonstrate the Full Potential of Providing Embassy Support Remotely

GAO-06-479: Published: May 2, 2006. Publicly Released: May 23, 2006.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Jess T. Ford
(202) 512-4268
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

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.

State has a number of regional and domestic offices that provide some management support remotely to overseas posts in areas such as financial management and human resources. For example, State's Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs provides support to posts in its region through staff based in Florida. State announced in October 2005 it would identify and remove additional functions that do not need to be performed at post and could instead be performed domestically or at regional centers overseas. State faces several challenges in trying to expand its use of remote support. For example, restrictions on what management functions non-American staff can perform might limit the extent to which services can be provided remotely. In addition, current funding arrangements for various regional bureaus and posts might limit opportunities for remote support to be offered from one region to another, while posts' reluctance to change is a further constraint. State is assessing whether certain regulations could be waived or changed and how institutional challenges might be overcome. There are several potential advantages to providing administrative support to posts from remote locations, and several concerns. For example, one U.S.-based officer provides financial management support to multiple overseas posts, eliminating the need for an American financial management officer at each post served, which, according to State, could result in cost savings. Officials at posts we visited reported they were generally satisfied with the level of support and customer service at a regional or domestic service center, though some noted concerns. However, at the time of our review, State had neither analyzed the potential cost savings associated with providing remote support nor systematically assessed the quality of support provided. In addition, many officials in Washington and overseas were unaware of the full breadth of support offered by regional service centers.

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 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.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: 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.

    Recommendation: 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.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: 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.

    Recommendation: 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.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: 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.

    Jul 21, 2014

    Jul 9, 2014

    Jul 8, 2014

    Jun 26, 2014

    Jun 25, 2014

    Jun 24, 2014

    Jun 17, 2014

    Looking for more? Browse all our products here