The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a new report today upholding the widespread sentiment among the business community that the federal government must enhance collaboration with state and local trade partners, ultimately leading to more small business exports. House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) requested the report.
“More than 95 percent of the world’s consumers live outside the borders of the United States, and the ability to serve these consumers is important to the future of small businesses and the American economy,” said Chairman Graves. “Unfortunately, too many small businesses have difficulty accessing and taking advantage of the variety of federal and state programs intended to help them reach these foreign markets. This GAO report provides important guidance to federal agencies that should help them improve their individual programs as well as better facilitate interagency coordination of federal small business export promotion efforts. Because when more small businesses export, more jobs are created, and our economy grows.”
The 2013 Small Business Exporting Survey, released last year by the National Small Business Association and its international trade arm, the Small Business Exporters Association, found growth in small business exports over the past three years and a surging interest in trade. However, the survey found many small firms lacked information about how to proceed and are confused by all the federal agencies involved. The Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee (TPCC) is an interagency task force that ensures the coordination and development of a government-wide export promotion plan. It is made up of 20 agencies with a core of 7 agencies.
Given the importance of U.S. exports in supporting economic growth, in 2010, the President announced the National Export Initiative. Its goal was to double U.S. exports in 5 years, in part, by calling for the federal government to coordinate more with state and local governments and other public and private partners on export promotion. The House Small Business Committee, under Graves’ chairmanship has conducted oversight of this initiative because of the benefit to small businesses wanting to export.
In January, the Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy and Trade, held a hearing on this topic with James Sanford, Assistant United States Trade Representative for Small Business, Market Access and Industrial Competitiveness. An August 2013 GAO report, requested by Graves, also showed that the federal government needs to better manage, collaborate and promote trade programs. Last year, Graves and Committee Member Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) introduced legislation to reduce some of the key barriers and obstacles faced by small exporters. Both pieces of legislation were reported out of the Foreign Affairs Committee by voice vote on July 24.
Key Findings from the GAO Report:
• Results of the federal TPCC initiatives designed to advance federal-state collaboration in promoting U.S. exports by strengthening and expanding networks of state and local governments and other partners efforts have been limited, however, in part because their implementation has not consistently followed key collaboration practices.
• In the states GAO visited, they found weaknesses in the implementation of Export Outreach Teams, which is a TPCC initiative. For example, in some cases, activities were missing key participants and were inconsistent with the activities’ objectives, in part because SBA is not fully monitoring implementation of the teams across its 68 district offices.
• TPCC’s involvement in an initiative to engage metropolitan areas in export promotion has unknown implications for federal export promotion efforts and resources because Commerce lacks a means to monitor the initiative’s results.
• GAO recommends that the TPCC improve implementation of the Export Outreach Teams to better achieve their intended objectives, enhance agencies’ collaboration on export promotion with nonfederal entities, and enhance federal information sharing with state trade offices, where possible, on Commerce’s export promotion activities, for example, by providing formal guidance to staff on allowable information sharing.