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Boosting U.S. exports is one way to help the economy and create jobs, but a Commerce Department unit that helps American companies expand exports saw its staff shrink by 14 percent over the past five years, the Government Accountability Office says.

A flat budget for five years forced the department’s Commercial Service (CS) to tap unobligated funds from prior years’ congressional appropriations, the watchdog said in a new report. “However, as the availability of these offsetting funds declined and costs continued growing, CS leadership failed to recognize the risks entailed by the financial problems, and the organization reached a ‘crisis’ situation in 2009. Officials froze hiring, travel, training, and supplies, compromising CS’s ability to conduct its core business.”

The unit needs more staff to help carry out the White House’s National Export Initiative (NEI) that aims to double U.S. exports within five years. For fiscal 2011, the Commercial Service requested a budget of $321 million — up $63 million from the current fiscal year — which would let it hire 268 new staff to support the export initiative. That would reverse a 239-person decline in its staffing that occurred from 2004 to 2009, the GAO said.

As part of the unit’s revitalization, the agency should do a better job of planning workforce needs and estimating budgets to pay for them, the watchdog said.

Fast Fact: The U.S. Commercial Service has staff in embassies around the world to help American businesses develop export marketing plans, participate in trade events, and obtain export financing. In 2009, U.S. exports of goods and services reached about $1.5 trillion, a 55 percent increase since 2000.

Other new reports released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) or various federal Offices of Inspector General (OIG):


  • Government watchdogs made nearly 2,500 recommendations in 2003-09 for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 62 percent of them have been addressed (OIG)
  • The Army awarded “time-and-materials” contracts for Southwest Asia without adequate competition and reasonable prices (OIG)


  • In the five years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast, the federal government provided funding to nonprofit groups offering housing, health care, and other recovery help (GAO)
  • Minact, a contractor operating 10 Job Corps centers for the Labor Dept., did not meet safety and health requirements (OIG)

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