State Department to expand use of overseas workforce planning tool

The State Department will expand its use of a year-old framework to determine appropriate staff levels at embassies around the world, according to a new General Accounting Office report.

Officials from the State Department and the Office of Management and Budget generally agreed that all embassies, including smaller ones in developing countries, would benefit from using a "rightsizing" tool designed last year by GAO to assess how many employees are needed at certain posts. GAO's framework includes questions for embassy officials on physical and technical security at their facilities, mission priorities and costs of operations.

"The GAO rightsizing questions provide a good foundation for State to proceed to work with OMB and other agencies to improve the process for determining overseas staffing levels," said the State Department's written response to GAO's report.

The State Department launched its overseas rightsizing effort after the 1998 terrorist bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. Determining the proper deployment of federal employees overseas is also one of 10 issue-area initiatives in President Bush's management agenda.

When GAO proposed its personnel assessment framework for U.S. posts abroad in July 2002, officials from the State Department and OMB doubted whether the framework could be applied uniformly at all overseas posts. GAO developed its methodology based on a study of the U.S. embassy in Paris.

In the new report (GAO-03-396), GAO looked at three embassies in West Africa to determine whether the framework would be useful to officials working at smaller posts in countries with varying political and economic circumstances. According to GAO, the specific questions on security, mission priorities and administrative costs helped officials at the facilities included in the study identify vulnerabilities and determine how many employees would be necessary to strengthen key weaknesses.

For example, the report said "significant" limitations on building security and office space at the embassy in Dakar, Senegal would likely limit the number of employees who could be posted there.

State Department officials said the most important criterion in evaluating overseas posts is the overall foreign policy mission of the United States. "The first question that must be answered before all others is whether the United States has a compelling reason to be in a particular location," said State's written response to GAO.

The State Department also said its own overseas staffing model, completed in 1996, provides an "objective, flexible tool to measure what resources are needed to meet the president's and the secretary's foreign policy priorities and objectives."

OMB suggested that agencies with employees overseas also consider workload requirements, information technology options and competitive sourcing opportunities when assessing staffing levels.

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