Government should produce better trade promotion data, GAO finds

By Sarah Gonzalez

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 14, 2013-  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report concluding that the government needs to produce better information about its resources dedicated to trade promotion and exports.  

GAO found that the interagency Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC) neither reports nor compiles information on how federal export promotion resources align with government-wide priorities.

“As a result, decision makers lack a clear understanding of the total resources dedicated across the country and around the world by TPCC member agencies to priority areas, such as increasing exports by small- and medium-sized businesses,” GAO wrote.

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TPPC last compiled high-level data on member agencies' budget authority in 2011, but GAO said the information is not useful for assessing resource allocations because the data are inconsistent across agencies and not detailed enough to understand how resources are allocated among priorities.

Also, the agencies use different definitions of export promotion, “so it unclear why some agencies are included in the TPCC's data and others are not.”

“Without better information on agencies' export promotion resources, decision makers cannot determine whether the federal investment in export promotion is being used effectively or make informed decisions about future resource decisions,” GAO wrote.

In 2010, the President launched the National Export Initiative (NEI) with the goal of doubling U.S. exports over five years. More than 20 years ago, Congress established the TPCC to provide a framework for federal efforts in this area.

Although TPCC's National Export Strategy reports issued since the initiation of the NEI outline government priorities, they do not discuss how resources are allocated in support of these priorities, GAO found.

“Despite the current emphasis on export promotion as a high-priority goal, recent strategies have provided less information on budget resources than have previous strategies,” GAO states. The report also noted that TPCC secretariat officials recognize that the agencies place little emphasis on discussing agencies' resources in the National Export Strategy reports.

GAO recommended that TPCC develop guidance for member agencies on what information they should provide the TPCC on the resources they spend on export promotion activities, as well as report in its National Export Strategies how resources are allocated by agency and aligned with the strategy's priorities.

“This GAO report is further verification that federal trade agencies need better collaboration between our export programs so that small businesses can pursue new markets internationally,” said House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves, R-Mo., who requested the report.

“Many of the federal assistance trade programs overlap and offer duplicative services, including mirroring the same efforts as many individual state trade offices,” Graves said. “Currently, there are over 20 federal agencies that provide some, or all, of the steps in the export process. This can paint a very confusing and intimidating picture for small companies who often don't have designated export officials or trade representatives on staff to navigate the process for their business.”

On May 9, Graves and Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, introduced legislation to reduce some of the key barriers and obstacles faced by small business exporters. Graves' legislation was merged with Foreign Affairs Committee Ranking Member Rep. Eliot Engel's, D-N.Y., Export Promotion Reform Act (H.R. 1409) during a Foreign Affairs subcommittee markup on June 26.

Also, The State Trade Coordination Act, legislation sponsored by Chabot, would establish the framework to ensure that federal and state trade agencies work in unison to help local exporters. Both pieces of legislation were reported out of the Foreign Affairs Committee by unanimous voice vote on July 24.  

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