Federal export programs lack proper oversight, GAO says


The U.S. government’s exporting programs lack sufficient oversight, a new report shows. (Bloomberg)

An interagency committee charged with coordinating the government’s exporting programs has not been following through on some of its responsibilities, leaving the programs with overlapping services and making it difficult to measure their success, according to a study released Wednesday.

Some fear the shortfalls make it difficult for businesses, especially small ones, to access public resources to help them sell goods and services abroad.

The Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee, a government body responsible for coordinating and managing the funding for various federal exporting programs, has not been compiling information policymakers need to determine whether the programs are working, according to a review by the Government Accountability Office.

In addition, the report notes that the committee has failed to identify what resources each agency needs to operate its exporting programs and has struggled to pinpoint overlaps and redundant services offered by different departments.

The committee, composed of officials from 20 agencies and chaired by the secretary of commerce, acknowledged many of the concerns raised by the GAO and said it will work with government leaders to improve its operations.

“Without better information on agencies’ export promotion resources, decision makers cannot determine whether the federal investment in export promotion is being used effectively,” according to the study, which said that the oversight problems make it harder to tackle specific “priority areas, such as increasing exports by small- and medium-sized businesses.”

One congressman is particularly concerned about that last drawback.

“Many of the federal assistance trade programs overlap and offer duplicative services, including mirroring the same efforts as many individual state trade offices,” said House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.), who requested the study. He later added that “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.”

This is not the first time the GAO has identified challenges for small firms trying to access government exporting resources. In January, the office released a report suggesting the Small Business Administration was not collaborating enough with other agencies on its export promotion activities and repeating services offered by other programs.

“Overlapping services may cause confusion for small businesses and result in inefficient use of government resources,” the report said.

Graves said this latest report serves as “further verification that federal trade agencies need better collaboration between our export programs so that small businesses can pursue new markets internationally.”

In May, Graves and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) introduced a bill that would start to address some of the complexity in the system for small businesses and elevate congressional oversight of the government’s exporting initiatives.

In addition, Graves said, the legislation would require federal and state officials to work together to ensure that programs and services were not being duplicated.

J.D. Harrison covers startups, small business and entrepreneurship, with a focus on public policy, and he runs the On Small Business blog.

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