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Diplomacy in Action

Management Challenges


FY 2004 Performance and Accountability Report
Bureau of Resource Management
November 2004
Report
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The Government Accountability Office and the Department's Office of Inspector General have identified several management challenges that represent areas where the Department must improve operations. The tables below list, by Strategic Goal, the major challenges and corresponding actions that the Department is taking in response to them.

 

STRATEGIC GOAL 3: HOMELAND SECURITY

Challenge Visa Processing and Border Security
Findings
(GAO-04-795)
  • Delays existed in matching names of suspected terrorists with names of visa holders. In at least three of the thirty-five cases, it took State six months or more to revoke visas after receiving a recommendation.
  • In three cases, State took a week or longer after deciding to revoke visas to post a lookout or notify Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Without these notifications, DHS may not know to investigate those individuals who may be in the country.
Major Recommendations
  • Develop a written government-wide policy that clearly defines roles and responsibilities and sets performance standards.
  • Address outstanding legal and policy issues in this area or provide Congress with specific actions to resolve the legal and policy issues.
Major Actions Taken or That Will be Taken
  • In April and May, State revised its procedures and formalized its tracking system for visa revocation cases.
  • State and DHS also took some steps to address legal and policy issues related to visa revocations.
Expected Result
  • No delay in taking action to revoke the visas of known or suspected terrorists.
  • No delay in notification of revocation actions to DHS.
Challenge Visa Processing and Border Security - Biometric Visa Program
Findings
(GAO-04-1001)
  • The State Department is installing the equipment and the software for the Biometric Visa Program on schedule. Installation was completed at all posts in October 2004, three weeks ahead of schedule.
  • The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and DoS have not fully developed guidance for the
    program's use.
  • Posts are now collecting fingerprints of each visa applicant and processing the prints through the DHS IDENT database.
  • A lack of guidance provided to consular officers has resulted in some initial confusion concerning the use of the program and the information available from IDENT on visa applicants.
Major Recommendations
  • Development and distribution of guidance on how the program should be used to help adjudicate visas.
  • State should direct each consular post to develop an implementation plan based on this guidance.
Major Actions Taken or That Will be Taken
  • The 13 telegrams sent to all posts about the Biometric Visa Program, some of which specifically covered the BioVisa Program's relationship to the US-VISIT Program, demonstrate that State and DHS are already closely coordinating policy on the Biometric Visa Program. The Department will continue to do so, and to work with our posts to ensure that officers are fully trained and aware of this policy. Although some lags in guidance are perhaps inevitable at times of rapid, groundbreaking change, the Department will continue to make every effort to communicate with the field to keep guidance current and clear.
  • In order for IDENT results to be obtained prior to visa interviews, an American employee with a security clearance would have to collect all fingerprints in advance of the interviews. This would require the hiring of additional cleared Americans and provision of space for collection of the fingerprints in advance, as well as for waiting rooms large enough for the applicants to wait for the IDENT returns. Many posts would have difficulty hiring the Americans and providing the necessary space. It would be costly to make posts obtain IDENT results prior to visa interviews; costs that are hard to justify when fewer than one in a thousand visa applicants has a hit against the IDENT watchlist. Moreover, not having the IDENT results available during the interview is not a security concern because the nonimmigrant visa system is locked and visas cannot be issued until the IDENT results are returned to posts and the applicants are cleared.
Expected Result
  • The Biometric Visa Program will continue to prevent criminals and immigration violators who are ineligible for visas from changing identities to obtain visas in a false identity. It will also continue to ensure the integrity of the U.S. visa through biometric identity verification at ports of entry.

 

STRATEGIC GOAL 6: AMERICAN CITIZENS

Challenge Secure Passport Issuance
Findings
(ISP-CA-04-01)
  • Decisions on claims to American citizenship for first-time passport applicants overseas are inconsistent. Over 80% of the adjudications reviewed had moderate to serious problems, including applications where the embassy or consulate was not identified, and some not signed by the applicant.
  • Audit results call into question Consular Affairs' (CA) current policy that adjudication decisions made by officers overseas are not reviewed in Washington.
  • Consular officers at overseas missions, particularly those less experienced, said they would welcome a review of their work by the more experienced passport officers. Such disconnects between the Department and American citizens services officers overseas represent a lack of clear communication and guidance within the overseas passport program.
Major Recommendations
  • Design and implement a quality assurance program to identify trends and issues that require more training and information sharing.
  • The Department transfers oversight of the overseas passport issuance program to the Directorate of Passport Services to make overseas passport procedures consistent with the restrictions currently being placed on domestic passport processing or submit an acceptable alternate plan.
  • Create a mentoring program designed specifically to address the unique passport decision challenges facing junior officers assigned to a mission where little or no other consular expertise is readily available.
Major Actions Taken or That Will be Taken
  • CA disagrees with the assessment that citizenship decisions are inconsistent for first time passport applicants overseas. While the Department is working to reduce the differences between how some overseas posts annotate passport applications, adjudication of citizenship and the criteria for passport issuance are consistent worldwide.
  • CA has established a standing committee to ensure ongoing collaboration on all passport matters. The post-adjudication review of passport applications adjudicated at posts is taking place both at posts and in Washington. The Department has reminded consular officers to annotate passport applications carefully and completely to continue to conduct post-adjudication reviews of passport applications as part of their management of passport operations at post. These reviews at post mirror those done in passport agencies.
  • In early FY 2004, country officers again reminded posts via e-mail of the importance of thorough annotation and review of U.S. passport applications. In addition to reviews at posts, additional post-adjudication review of a representative sampling of overseas passport applications began in early 2004. The Department has discovered 5 major (1%) and 72 (15%) minor problems. These percentages are comparable to those found in similar reviews done in domestic Passport Agencies. The Department is providing direct feedback to those posts with major problems and will be incorporating the most common minor problems in future guidance to posts.
Expected Result
  • To continue to improve the secure issuance of United States Passports.

 

STRATEGIC GOAL 11: PUBLIC DIPLOMACY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS

Challenge Communication with the Muslim Public
Findings
(GAO-04-4435T)
  • Since September 11, 2001, the Department has expanded its public diplomacy efforts in Muslim-majority countries considered to be of strategic importance in the war on terrorism. It significantly increased resources in South Asia and the Near East and launched new initiatives targeting broader, younger audiences - particularly in predominantly Muslim countries.
  • However, the Department does not have a strategy that integrates all of its diverse public diplomacy activities and directs them toward common objectives.
  • There is no interagency strategy to guide federal agencies' communication efforts and thus ensure consistent messages to overseas audiences.
  • The Department was not systematically and comprehensively measuring progress toward the goals of reaching broader audiences and increasing publics' understanding about the United States.
  • Challenges at State include insufficient public diplomacy resources and a lack of officers with foreign language proficiency.
Major Recommendations
  • The Department should develop a strategy to integrate its public diplomacy efforts and direct them toward common, measurable objectives.
Major Actions Taken or That Will be Taken
  • The Muslim World Outreach (MWO) Policy Coordinating Committee was created and began meeting on August 2, 2004, as a priority Administration initiative to coordinate new and intensified USG approaches to Muslim communities worldwide.
  • A Task Force took effect at the same time to coordinate implementation.
  • Several working groups were formed to develop new uses of electronic media technology and approaches using selected countries in different geographic regions as pilot models, refine USG counter-disinformation activities and take better advantage of available survey research and intelligence.
Expected Result
  • Improved two-way communication between the U.S. and the Muslim world, leading to a greater base of genuine understanding, which can serve as a damper on the appeal of extremists, al Qaeda fellow travelers, and others with hostile intent toward the U.S.

 

STRATEGIC GOAL 12: MANAGEMENT AND ORGANIZATIONAL EXCELLENCE

Challenge Leadership and Staffing at Hardship Posts
Findings
(ISP-04-54)
  • There is a strong relationship among leadership, morale, staffing, and diplomatic readiness at hardship posts.
  • As the morale at hardship posts improves and the posts develop a positive reputation, staffing problems decrease and diplomatic readiness is heightened.
  • To a great extent, hardship posts in Africa lack qualified and interested American officers at all levels, and many do not have strong leadership, limiting diplomatic readiness.
  • Stretch assignments of one to three grades are frequently used to fill vacancies, as are Civil Service (GS)
    excursion tours. These employees often lack depth of experience and functional skills.
  • There are large amounts of staff overtime, employee fatigue, and complaints regarding poor service. Inexperienced officers are having difficulty ordering priorities; the backlogs and accumulations of work overwhelm incoming officers and reduce their ability to perform; and more time is being spent by senior staff on operational matters and less time on overall planning, policy, coordination, management, and supervision.
  • There are significant deficiencies in Foreign Service National capability, training, and experience.
  • Facilities, which may be substandard already, are deteriorating, and posts are unable to provide a reasonable quality of life.
  • Not every post encounters these difficulties. OIG inspection teams found that, with good leadership from the ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), hardship posts can be successful, congenial workplaces with high morale, and can attract qualified staff, even in the most difficult of environments.
Major Recommendations
  • The Director-General should prepare precepts for the selection of ambassadors and DCMs for hardship posts that place a strong emphasis on leadership qualities, including the ability to motivate and encourage staff, and to teach subordinates to set priorities and be self-reliant.
  • The Director-General and the Foreign Service Institute should require individuals taking assignments as DCMs to take a new leadership and management class before going to post.
  • Develop and implement a formal program for temporary duty personnel that involves up-to-date training and the development and maintenance of a work plan for each post to which more than one temporary duty employee is sent in succession for the same position.
  • Develop procedures to retain Civil Service personnel who perform well at African hardship posts.
Major Actions Taken or That Will be Taken
  • Last year's DCM/Management Officer Conference (Capetown, March 2004) included joint and individual sessions on leadership, conducted by FSI's School of Leadership and Management professionals. The Department is working closely with FSI to design expanded sessions for the upcoming DCM/Management Conference (Johannesburg, January, 2005), with focus on mentoring and crisis leadership.
  • October 2004 Bureau of African Affairs Chief of Mission Conference included a leadership session focusing on identification and implementation of best practices. Breakout groups discussed strategies for promoting community welfare and post morale; on-the-job training for entry-level officers and Foreign Service Nationals; and maximizing use of retirees and regional support staff.
  • As outgoing Ambassadors and DCMs have come through the bureau for consultations, the Department has emphasized that evaluation of their performance will be based on their ability to demonstrate sound leadership and morale-building skills. The Department will continue at conferences and during individual consultations to emphasize the importance of these skills and to provide training. AF will work with FSI to determine what additional training/briefings may be the most useful.
  • The Department is in the process of developing a memorandum of understanding template for use at each post that receives retiree or temporary duty (TDY) assistance. The purpose will be to design a specific, prioritized work plan for the temporary employee. The Department is also developing templates for reporting accomplishments during the period of temporary duty and priorities for a follow-on work plan. In addition, the Department is considering how best to evaluate the skills and effectiveness of our various retiree and TDY staff, so that the Department can make the best use of their talents. Training is a bit more problematic, in terms of scheduling and funding. However, the Department has been as flexible as possible in this regard.
  • The Department is in the process of updating and consolidating policy and procedures and MOU templates for service agreements and evaluation of regional support personnel.
Expected Result
  • Chiefs of Mission and DCMs make leadership a management priority, focusing on mentoring, promoting community welfare and morale, and handling crisis situations at post.
  • More focused and effective use of retirees and TDY staff.
  • Ability to staff more difficult posts for longer periods of time than would have been otherwise possible.
  • Clear guidelines and agreement on expectations and functions will increase the effectiveness and efficiency of regional support personnel.
Challenge Overseas Building Security
Findings
(AUD/PPS-04-07)
  • Concurrent construction of USAID annexes could help decrease overall costs to the government and help achieve security goals.
  • New Embassy Compounds (NECs) have been built in separate stages - scheduling construction of the USAID annex after work has begun (or is completed) on the rest of the compound. State and USAID attributed this practice to a lack of full simultaneous funding for construction at nine locations through FY 2004.
  • Concurrent construction would eliminate the additional expensive mobilization of contractor staff and equipment and added supervision, security, and procurement support expenses that result from non-concurrent construction.
  • GAO estimated a total cost savings of around $68 million to $78 million if all 18 future USAID projects are built concurrently.
Major Recommendations
  • Concurrent construction of State and USAID facilities to the maximum extent possible.
  • Incorporate USAID space into single office buildings in future compounds, where appropriate.
  • Designing additional space for USAID within the main office building, or chancery, may cost less than erecting a separate annex, depending on a number of factors, including the size and configuration of the planned buildings.
  • Concurrent construction would help State and USAID comply with the collocation requirement and decrease the security risks associated with staff remaining outside of the embassy compound.
Major Actions Taken or That Will be Taken
  • State agrees there are substantial advantages to concurrent construction project execution if a new cost-sharing proposal to fund new embassies by allocating construction costs among all agencies having an overseas presence is implemented in FY 2005.
Expected Result
  • A continued move towards concurrent construction by all concerned, increased efficiency, and cost savings.
Challenge DS—Protection of Classified Information Abroad
Findings
(ISP-A-04-08)
  • OIG concluded that existing Department policies provide adequate guidance for protecting classified documents at U.S. diplomatic posts abroad and noted that the revised security incident policy appears to be having a positive influence on classified-document protection.
  • Classified document protection could be further improved at U.S. diplomatic posts abroad by ensuring the Department's policies are fully implemented and enforced.
Major Recommendations
  • Regional Security Officers (RSO) need to ensure all U.S. government personnel who handle classified information at posts abroad are regularly reminded of the requirements and of their personal responsibilities for protecting that information.
  • Headquarters need to take additional actions to support posts' implementation of the Department's classified document protection program.
Major Actions Taken or That Will be Taken
  • The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) provides a basic Information Security PowerPoint presentation on its website that the RSO can tailor for either Foreign Service Officers or Foreign Service Nationals.
  • DS provides annual refresher training to all posts. Computer Based Training (CBT) has been issued: "Who Wants to Maintain Good Security." The course provided all of the Department's posts abroad with the ability to participate at their own rate based on local conditions.
  • DS is providing the Smart card technology through the Global ID (GLID) Card program which tracks and controls user access to Department facilities. The use of Smart cards abroad will provide increased protection of classified information by providing physical access verification.
  • DS has initiated action and discussions with other Federal agencies at posts abroad and provided a model template. DS provides semi-annual reports to tenant agencies reflecting incident statistics involving their personnel and an analysis and recommendations that each agency may initiate to lower the number of reported incidents.
  • DS is in the process of disseminating various telegrams to Regional Security Officers, Post Security Officers (PSO), and Principal Officers on policy requirements and responsibilities of implementing, enforcing and administering security procedures and policies for the protection of classified information.
  • DS plans to consolidate existing requirements on storage, accountability, control, and recordkeeping for "No Distribution" messages in the Department's Foreign Affairs Manual.
Expected Result
  • Security personnel abroad are informed of their responsibilities for protecting classified information and to ensure personnel with access to classified information are trained.
  • Headquarters more actively provides RSOs and PSOs with assistance, guidance, and instructions to better protect classified information.
  • Security incidents by personnel with access to classified information will decrease.
  • Access to classified information is better tracked and controlled with the use of new technologies, such as smart cards, CBT, and websites.
  • Department policies (such as the 12 FAM) are updated so requirements for protecting classified information are codified and readily accessible.
  • Interagency participation in a Security Incident Program Working Group provides for a more uniform enforcement of security policies abroad.
Challenge Administrative Support Services
Findings
(GAO-04-511)
  • ICASS has not resulted in more efficient delivery of administrative support services because it has neither eliminated duplication nor led to efforts to contain costs by systematically streamlining operations.
  • GAO found that agencies often decide not to use ICASS services and self-provide support services - citing reasons of cost, programmatic needs, and greater control.
  • Agencies rarely gave business cases for why they chose not to use ICASS services.
  • Service providers and customer agencies have undertaken few systematic efforts to consolidate services or contain costs by streamlining administrative support structures.
  • Based on the system's primary goals, ICASS is generally effective in providing quality administrative support services in an equitable manner, although not to the extent that it could be if certain impediments were addressed.
  • GAO found that ICASS is simple and transparent enough for customers to understand its basic principles.
  • ICASS strategic goals lack indicators to gauge progress toward achieving them and progress toward achieving post's performance standards is not annually reviewed or updated.
  • Overseas staff decision-making authority is limited, diminishing ICASS goal of "local empowerment."
Major Recommendations
  • Eliminate duplicative administrative support structures where possible.
  • Reengineer processes by seeking innovative managerial approaches.
  • Develop strategies to improve ICASS accountability.
  • Ensure that all personnel participating in ICASS receive detailed training.
Major Actions Taken or That Will be Taken
  • The State/USAID Joint Management Council study, in conjunction with the ICASS service center, demonstrated the clear opportunity State and USAID have to improve service and reduce costs through consolidation of services at many overseas posts.
  • State/USAID Shared Services Pilot project to designate one service provider for selected services at selected posts.
  • MOMS regionalization of support services to Baghdad, Kabul, and other posts.
  • ICASS Executive Board focus on cost and service alignment.
  • First Annual ICASS Customer Satisfaction Survey.
  • ICASS Post Based Training and Joint Management Officer/Council Chair Conferences.
Expected Result
  • For posts and services selected, one service provider will take over sole delivery of these services at these posts, eliminating dual service provider operations.
  • Selected support personnel and infrastructure will not be established at MOMS supported posts.
  • Worldwide average participation rate of 25 percent for first survey.
  • Average participant rating for training sessions of 4 on 1-5 point scale.
Challenge Human Capital
Findings
(GAO-04-139)
  • The Department continues to face challenges filling the gaps in staff with proficiency in certain hard-to-learn languages, such as Arabic and Chinese.
  • Other challenges include new officers' public diplomacy skills and training, increased supervisory and on-the-job requirements when State assigns junior officers to positions above their experience level, and the impact of rotational assignments on junior officers' performance and managers' time.
Major Recommendations
  • Collect and maintain data on the effectiveness of the Department's efforts to address continuing gaps in officers with proficiency in certain hard-to-learn languages.
Major Actions Taken or That Will be Taken
  • State used critical elements of workforce planning to identify the number of junior officers it needs to hire within the next 5 to 10 years.
  • State has implemented a plan to target applicants who speak difficult languages. Since March 2004, 125 people with proficiency in languages critical to national security have been hired as Foreign Service Generalists. Their languages include Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, Korean, Turkish, and Hindi. Proficiency in approximately a dozen Critical Needs Languages gives candidates for employment additional points in the hiring process. These officers are expected to use their language during their first or second assignments.
  • The Diplomatic Readiness Initiative alleviated many staffing shortfalls, which in turn allowed more officers to attend training, such as Public Diplomacy training. State launched a new public diplomacy training program, expanding PD training from 3 weeks to as much as 19 weeks. The shortage of mid-level officers, which results in more stress on the role of the supervisor, will be alleviated as the Diplomatic Readiness Initiative hires move to mid-level positions.
Expected Result
  • Fewer overseas staffing gaps.
  • Achievement of very ambitious language goals.
  • Employees who are better prepared to perform their duties.
Challenge Financial Services
Findings
(ISP-I-04-18)
  • The Department does not have adequate controls in place to prevent and detect financial errors and irregularities.
  • The consolidation plans developed by the Department to implement the move of the Department's domestic financial services to the Charleston Financial Service Center were not complete enough to enable management to ensure that critical services would continue throughout the transfer and to manage and limit the effect of potential lapses in services.
  • The Department continued to refine its consolidation plans throughout this review, and no errors or irregularities caused by the control weaknesses or significant reductions in services came to OIG's attention.
Major Recommendations
  • Since the Department has already taken many positive actions, OIG made no recommendations to improve controls or management of the transfer.
  • The Department should also document the lessons learned throughout its consolidation efforts so that they can be applied to future Department efforts.
Major Actions Taken or That Will be Taken
  • The Department has already taken action to address many of the issues presented in this report.
Expected Result
  • A successful and efficient transfer of the Department's domestic financial services to the Charleston Financial Service Center.

 


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