State Department:

Key Transformation Practices Could Have Helped in Restructuring Arms Control and Nonproliferation Bureaus

GAO-09-738: Published: Jul 15, 2009. Publicly Released: Jul 15, 2009.

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In 2004, the Department of State (State) Inspector General (IG) concluded that State's three-bureau structure for conducting arms control and nonproliferation policy did not adequately address post-September 11 challenges, including possible terrorist use of weapons of mass destruction. The IG also noted that State had yet to formalize the responsibilities of the three bureaus in its Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM), which sets out agency organization and functions. Between late 2005 and early 2006, State created a new two-bureau structure to better address these issues and improve efficiency GAO was asked to assess the extent to which State addressed (1) the objectives of its 2005-2006 reorganization and (2) key transformation practices. For this effort, GAO reviewed State documents pertaining to the reorganization and staffing data for the affected bureaus in the periods before and after the reorganization and interviewed former and current State officials in Washington, D.C.

State cannot demonstrate that the 2005-2006 restructuring of its Nonproliferation, Arms Control, and Verification and Compliance bureaus achieved all of its objectives because it did not clearly define the objectives and lacked metrics to assess them. State's objectives were to enable it to better focus on post -September 11 challenges; reduce bureaucratic inefficiencies and top-heavy management; and eliminate overlap. State sought to achieve its first objective by creating new offices and roles to address terrorism and counterproliferation issues. To meet its second objective, State merged three bureaus having 30 offices and functions into two bureaus having 26 offices and functions and freed up staff slots for these new roles, but problems with workload mismatches persisted after the reorganization as State employees noted it left some offices overworked and some offices underworked. State cannot demonstrate that it met its third objective, reducing top-heavy management, as its goals were undefined. Although it reduced the number of senior executives from 27 to 20 and reduced office directorships, the overall number of higher-ranking employees increased from 91 to 100 and executive office staff increased from 44 to 50. Moreover, concerns about mission overlap persist, in part because bureau roles remain undefined in the FAM. State's reorganization addressed few of the key practices for organizational mergers and transformations that GAO developed in 2002. These practices are found to be at the center of successful mergers and transformations. As illustrated below, State generally addressed one key practice, partially addressed two, and did not address the remaining five. For example, State did not address establishing coherent mission and strategic goals because it did not define an end state with measurable goals, nor did it devise a means to gauge progress toward such goals or assess the results of actions taken. As a result, State lacks reasonable assurance that the reorganization achieved its objectives or that it can identify any lessons learned.

Status Legend:

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  • 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: To better clarify the roles and responsibilities of the two new bureaus created in this restructuring, the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation and the Bureau of Verification, Compliance, and Implementation--and to fulfill a pledge made to Congress--the Secretary of State should formally delineate the roles and responsibilities of each bureau in the FAM.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a September 2009 letter, State concurred with the recommendation. State updated the FAM as of February 4, 2011 to delineate the role of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (in 1 FAM 441) and as of April 28, 2011 to delineate the role of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (in 1 FAM 450), as GAO had recommended.

    Recommendation: To better achieve stated goals and to implement effective and credible organizational mergers or transformations, the Secretary of State should modify the FAM to direct that the key practices and steps associated with successful organizational mergers and transformations are incorporated into subsequent bureau reorganizations.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a September 2009 letter, State concurred with the recommendation. State updated the FAM as of February 4, 2011 to delineate the role of the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance (in 1 FAM 441) and as of April 28, 2011 to delineate the role of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation (in 1 FAM 450), as GAO had recommended.

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