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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Management Challenges - State

Bureau of Resource Management
May 10, 2010


The Department of State faced significant challenges in FY 2009 associated with protection of people and facilities, information security, financial management, contracting and procurement, counterterrorism and border security, public diplomacy, coordinating foreign assistance, staffing and foreign language proficiency, working in conflict areas, managing for results, acquisition and assistance, human capital management, and information technology management. The following outlines management challenges for the Department for FY 2009 identified by the OIG and GAO. The management challenges are followed by a brief description of actions taken and actions remaining. The full OIG statement for the Department of State can be found on pages 121-124 of the Department’s FY 2009 Agency Financial Report.

OIG Challenge Security Personnel Staffing and Preparedness. The Department must initiate a more strategic approach to the growing demands placed on its security personnel, increase personnel efficiency and effectiveness, and find ways to accelerate implementation of security measures in response to new threats.
Actions Taken Using lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department established protective operations and emergency response teams to protect Americans in Peshawar, Pakistan, one of the most dangerous posts.
Actions Remaining The Department will integrate more strategic approaches to growing security requirements, further streamline the process to update these requirements, and work with other U.S. agencies served by Department security services abroad to share in the costs of these requirements.
OIG Challenge Overseas Facilities. Until the Department replaces all overseas facilities that do not meet security standards, it must identify and implement temporary mitigating measures.
Actions Taken In 2009, the Department completed seven new Embassy compounds, moving nearly 1,500 people into more secure installations, implemented ten major compound security upgrade projects, and prepared the first Long-Range Overseas Maintenance Plan to protect new facility investments and capture maintenance requirements in our legacy buildings.
Actions Remaining The Department will identify and implement further measures to mitigate threats to people, facilities, and information until all facilities are fully secured.
OIG Challenge Protection of Personally Identifiable Information. The Department must continue to focus and improve on recently identified weaknesses in its efforts to protect Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
Actions Taken The Department has made significant improvements in its protection of PII, including developing a more robust Privacy Impact Assessment to identify privacy risks and vulnerabilities in new or substantially modified information systems, examining information sharing agreements with other entities to ensure that adequate protections are in place, and continuing internal reviews of selected business processes to ensure the collection of only the minimum amount of PII to meet business objectives.
Actions Remaining Additional efforts are ongoing in this area, but the Department will continue enacting greater safeguards to protect the privacy of PII.
OIG Challenge Use of Laptops. The Department must improve its laptop inventory system and encryption procedures, as well as its tracking of security awareness training.
Actions Taken State has enhanced its laptop procedures by strengthening its laptop inventory process, implementing automatic alert procedures for every information security-related breach involving laptops without a waiver, requiring installation of encryption on all laptops, and mandating laptop-specific security awareness training for all laptop users.
Actions Remaining The Department will take additional measures to fully address OIG’s findings.
OIG Challenge Financial System Controls. During an independent external audit of the Department’s financial statements, the auditor could not express an opinion by the mandated deadline due to the Department’s untimely response to a document request.
Actions Taken The Department subsequently provided sufficient documents, and the auditor concluded that the amounts presented in the financial statements were materially fair, and in conformity with generally accepted accounting principles. Overall, the Department continued to improve controls over financial management.
Actions Remaining State will address certain deficiencies in its internal financial system controls, and improve compliance with federal financial management requirements.
OIG Challenge Procurement Management. The Department must improve procurement planning and documentation, as well as contract administration and oversight.
Actions Taken Although procurement volume increased significantly in recent years, there was no corresponding increase in contracting staff. The Department generally followed applicable contracting requirements in soliciting and awarding contracts. It also made significant improvements in the timeliness of some of its payments by providing greater oversight of the payment process, resulting in a dramatic reduction in some interest payments.
Actions Remaining The Department will further improve management oversight of its procurement process.
OIG Challenge Cross-Border Issues. The Department must anticipate and adequately prepare for the implementation of recent statutory requirements and foreign policy initiatives that will impact cross-border issues and result in increased staffing, resource, and oversight demands.
Actions Taken In collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security and other USG agencies, State continues to improve technology at ports of entry, the security of travel documents, and the screening technology used by officials at home and abroad.
Actions Remaining The Department will address increased staffing, resource, and oversight demands including the implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, requiring travel documents for all land, sea, and air travelers in the region, and border crossing card replacement.
OIG Challenge Integration Initiatives. The Department must further develop public diplomacy integration initiatives internally as well as at the interagency level, and needs to continue searching for new ways to conduct public diplomacy.
Actions Taken The Department made important progress to make public diplomacy part of a total diplomatic effort. It successfully embedded public diplomacy into some regional planning. It also reached out to foreign audiences worldwide through a mobile phone text messaging system, a team of online bloggers, the website, Twitter, interactive multimedia platforms, and virtual presence posts.
Actions Remaining The Department will continue integrating public diplomacy into policy formation, further disseminate successful integration efforts, and continue leveraging new technologies. Public Diplomacy will continue to bring strategic focus to how public diplomacy programs, resources, and structures support foreign policy objectives.
OIG/GAO1 Challenge Planning. The Department must advance a time frame for developing a comprehensive U.S. foreign assistance strategy, clearly capture all relevant programs and activities in its planning process, and improve coordination and financial management of its foreign assistance funds.
Actions Taken State has taken steps to provide a comprehensive view of all U.S. foreign assistance activities in every country in which U.S. resources are targeted, and continue working to integrate foreign assistance planning and budgeting into the strategic planning of other foreign policy goals. The Department initiated a pilot five-year country assistance strategy program, changed the budget formulation process, and implemented a joint Department and USAID budget process. Additionally, it recently reinvigorated its capacity to monitor and evaluate foreign assistance by increasing staff, training, and technical resources.
Actions Remaining Under the leadership of the new Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, State is undertaking efforts to better integrate foreign assistance into Department operations.
OIG/GAO2 Challenge Language Training. The Department continues to have persistent gaps in its foreign language capabilities due to overall staffing shortages, which limit the number of staff available for language training, and the recent increase in language-designated positions.
Actions Taken State took an essential first step by conducting additional hiring above attrition levels. Additionally, it convened an internal language working group to further department-wide communication and collaboration in all language-related issues.
Actions Remaining The Department is in the process of developing a personnel simulation model to determine needs more accurately, and better balance training and operational requirements and staffing resources.

1 For more information, see the GAO Study Foreign Aid Reform. (back to text)
2 For more information, consult the GAO report Persistent Staffing and Foreign Language Gaps Compromise Diplomatic Readiness. (back to text)


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