Department of State and U.S. Information Agency

Agency Reinvention Activities


Even before the National Performance Review (NPR) initiative began, Secretary Warren Christopher and Deputy Secretary Clifton Wharton announced sweeping changes in the Department of State's policy implementation process, drawing on recommendations contained in the State 2000 report, which was completed in January 1993. In February, they announced a reorganization to reduce management layering, devolve greater responsibility to line units and officers, and eliminate many ad hoc offices that had been created over the years. The changes also gave new organizational structure to global issue priorities such as the environment, peacekeeping, and support for democracy.

Following the President's March announcement of NPR and the April 1 letter from the Vice President to the department secretaries, Secretary Christopher established a State Department Team for Reinventing Government on April 5. Top department leadership wanted this to be a grass-roots effort to the greatest extent possible. A small coordinating office was established and volunteers were chosen to head cluster groups in each of six areas--consular affairs, business facilitation, diplomatic security, people and empowerment, financial management, and organization management. The cluster groups' job was to come up with ideas and realistic recommendations to improve service to the public, save money, and enable State Department employees to do their jobs better.

Each cluster group leader, in turn, recruited other volunteers to participate in the effort. In all, some 100 State Department employees, from all ranks and both the Civil Service and Foreign Service, played an active role in developing proposals. Many times that number contributed ideas in writing or participated in group meetings. Some of the cluster groups also conducted extensive interviews in other agencies and the private sector.

The coordinating office sent a questionnaire to the department's 275 overseas posts and offices throughout the United States and domestic bureaus to solicit individual or unit suggestions on how the department could do its work better. To date, more than 400 replies have been received.

On May 26, the Vice President held a town meeting at the State Department for employees of the Department of State, the Agency for International Development, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, and the United States Information Agency. Nine hundred employees attended the meeting, which was also broadcast live to offices throughout the building and to 160 overseas posts and relayed by satellite to 73 more.

These initiatives quickly demonstrated not only that State Department personnel had a great many ideas for improving performance and efficiency, but also that there was a tremendous reservoir of popular support for the basic ideas of government reinvention. Employees were eager to participate, often on their own time after completing their normal workdays.

The State Department reinvention team worked closely with its NPR task force counterparts, but--because over 200 proposals were made-- began planning early for a separate State Department report on reinventing government. That report complements the present one by addressing over 80 issues and recommendations on internal State Department activities.

Reinvention Laboratories

The Consular Affairs Laboratory was one of the first to be announced by any agency. State Department officials had been considering ways to reinvent the department's consular operations well before the President's announcement of the reinventing government initiative. The Vice President's letter of April 1 provided a broader platform for that effort.

At the core of the consular lab is the establishment of five mini- labs at overseas posts, and the use of surveys to conduct both external (customer) and internal (organizational) assessments. Other reinvention initiatives in the consular area include:

--- establishing a Children's Issues Division to respond better to the growing number of adoption and child custody cases,

--- making the repatriation loan program less costly,

--- reorganizing the federal benefits delivery process to work more efficiently and to reduce double payments to dual nationals,

--- eliminating a burdensome report mandated by Congress but which appears to have outlived its usefulness, and

--- achieving greater efficiencies of scale in passport issuance.

The second State Department laboratory is directed at supporting U.S. businesses abroad--the Business Facilitation Laboratory. One of the many activities to be supported by this lab is the Business Facilitation Incentive Fund Program. Under this program, the department's geographic posts and bureaus will be selected to receive additional funding based on their proposals to improve business promotion programs. The continued funding of these activities will depend on a review of their performance. The department intends to continue this program as long as it proves viable. If it proves successful, the State Department will seek authority to collect and retain fees for its commercial services.

Other elements of the Business Facilitation Laboratory include significantly expanding training of State Department personnel in commercial work and increasing the department's outreach to the domestic American business community--for example, by having the Secretary periodically address major U.S. business conferences or conventions.

The third State Department laboratory is the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. The security function, here and abroad, for U.S. government personnel as well as for foreign officials in the United States, has gone through 20 years of rapid--not always coordinated--expansion. One of the most significant improvements would be a move to a multilevel security environment in which Secret (not Top Secret) is the normal security level for classified information. This change, in turn, would smooth the way for much speedier and less expensive background investigations. Other savings and efficiencies could be realized if the various foreign affairs and national security agencies standardized their clearance procedures. Other proposals relate to eliminating duplication or inefficiencies in providing security services here and abroad.

Other Cluster Groups

The People and Empowerment Cluster Group held three group process meetings with employees representing regional and functional bureaus, the Bureau of Personnel, and the Foreign Service Institute. The stated focus of this cluster group attracted a great deal of attention from many State Department employees who were eager to provide input on how they perform their jobs and how the personnel system treats them. The State Department, like other foreign affairs agencies, has special personnel problems because of the mix of two personnel systems--the Civil Service and the Foreign Service.

Employees would like to see more mobility between the two services, a revamping of the department's awards program, more and better training, and solutions to the problems of promotion bottlenecks or too many employees in some specialties and not enough in others. Many employees noted the need for the department to adapt its practices to a changed workforce, whose members cannot work the traditional eight- hour day. Another focus was the evolving nature of the secretarial profession, and what changes are needed to provide rewarding, successful secretarial careers. Still other recommendations emphasize the need for better customer service.

The Financial Management Cluster Group generated more than 20 well- documented, wide-ranging proposals based on numerous town meetings with key policymakers and financial managers in the department. Altogether, more than 150 department employees participated in these cluster groups, more than 120 cables were received from overseas posts providing suggestions, and officials from two foreign government embassies shared information and ideas. The proposals have the potential to save significant amounts of money, reduce red tape, and streamline operations. For example, one proposal suggests that if the full-time equivalent ceiling were lifted, the department could realize as much as $20 million in annual savings by replacing contract hires with direct hires. Allowing the department to move to lease-purchase arrangements for foreign properties would save comparable or greater sums over time. The State Department report proposes a mini-laboratory to test simplified travel vouchering procedures. Other recommendations address how to reduce procurement red tape, improve the method for determining Foreign Service National employee wage rates, and reduce the net cost to the department of medical programs.

Central to overall budget problems is how well the department can match resources to priorities. Both the State Department cluster group and the NPR task force made complementary recommendations on this subject. (See DOS02--Integrate the Foreign Affairs Resource Management Process.)

Among other subjects, the Organization Management Cluster Group looked at how to improve efficiency by consolidating administrative support functions in Washington, proposed strengthening the authority of ambassadors to control overseas staffing (see prior section of this report), recommended expanded use of regional support centers, and urged expeditious action to improve the integrity of the department's personnel database.

Looking Ahead

Secretary Christopher will send the State Department report to the Vice President in September 1993. He intends to use the report as the basis for an ongoing process of institutional reform and renewal. Many of the recommendations are already being implemented. Others require action by Congress or by other offices of the executive branch; some require further study.

Creativity cannot be compelled. But the State Department intends to do as much as possible to encourage it, by listening to employees and to the public and by putting good ideas into practice.

United States Information Agency

The United States Information Agency (USIA) has undertaken a major reinvention project: the consolidation of international broadcasting. (See prior section of this report on consolidation of U.S. nonmilitary international broadcasting.) Director Dr. Joseph Duffey negotiated proposed legislation providing for the integration of all nonmilitary U.S. government international broadcasting. As a result, legislation is now pending in Congress that will bring about a consolidation of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty under a new Board of Governors that provides for both a continuing relationship with USIA and a large measure of day-to-day editorial independence. This will result in considerable savings, without diminishing the ability of U.S.- sponsored international broadcasters to fill traditional roles.

The Broader Picture

As the broadcasting consolidation process proceeded, USIA was also planning other reinvention efforts. A coordinating group was convened on June 22 to discuss a method of proceeding and coordinating with the NPR. The group met with representatives from the Vice President's office, its State Department counterparts, and the agency director, and decided to make a firm start on reinvention, appropriate to USIA's own circumstances.

The committee began by reviewing existing documents that analyze agency activities, including advisory commission reports and ad hoc reports such as the one resulting from a Georgetown University study completed in March. The announcement of the creation of the group generated input, written and verbal, from individual employees, providing a measurer concerns and their enthusiasm for change.

In response to early expressions of concern by minority and women's groups, Director Duffey created the Just and Fair Workplace Task Force to examine the perceptions of injustice and unfairness in the hiring, promotion, and treatment of minority and female employees.

Most specifically, the USIA coordinating group focused on existing divisions of the agency that have already implemented Total Quality principles. Two years ago, the Engineering Division of the Voice of America retained the consulting services of the Maryland Center for Quality and Productivity to help it organize the process. Since its inception, it has improved its central function dramatically. Improvements in travel order processing, performance evaluation, idea processing, and recognition programs have all developed from this process.

Other Points of Focus

In the short tenure of the coordinating group, other areas, some cross-agency, have emerged as strong candidates for laboratory status. In the field of personnel, agency employees are concerned with promotion opportunities, illogical organization, performance evaluation, and personal bias.

Specific functions, such as the processing of J-visa issuing authority, are also potential candidates. The entire area of exchanges is complicated by the conflicting requirements of regulation and congressional earmarks.

Looking Ahead

Director Duffey is considering a Total Quality workshop for agency top management and the identification of a laboratory in which Total Quality principles would be applied systematically. In the meantime, the coordinating group will continue to deal with input from individuals and coordinate with other internal groups, such as the Just and Fair Workplace Task Force. Additionally, the group will coordinate with external agencies and with the Vice President's NPR office.

Return To Report Index

Who We Are |||Latest Additions |||Initiatives |||Customer Service |||News Room |||Accomplishments |||Awards |||"How To" Tools |||Library |||Web Links

Reinvention Comments
Technical Comments