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Despite six-figure salaries, Commerce Dept. specialists tasked with data entry

Federal export specialists lose a third of their time to administrative work, OIG says
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Highly paid export specialists at the International Trade Administration lose a third of their time to data entry and other administrative work, the Commerce Department office of inspector general says.

The ITA's Commercial Service helps promote exports from small- and medium-sized American businesses by counseling clients, performing market research and leading foreign trade missions into the United States. Its specialists make about $100,000 annually plus benefits, but are burdened with administrative tasks, an OIG report (.pdf) dated Nov. 30 says.

Commercial Service specialists who responded to an OIG survey reported spending about 17 percent of their time on data entry and 15 percent on tasks such as ordering supplies and coordinating events.

Altogether, there are only five administrative assistants across the program's 107 export assistance field offices.

"We have no one to answer the main phone line," one specialist told auditors. It's also up to specialists to recruit interns and troubleshoot computer problems, auditors say.

Since each field office runs its own website, export specialists also have to learn computer programming languages.

Auditors estimate that the specialists were paid close to $10 million in fiscal 2011 to do tasks that could have been done by lower-paid workers.

The report also says that some of the administrative work could be moved to a centralized office and done by employees better suited to the tasks. For example, the Commercial Service could hire workers to maintain the field office websites from one central location.

Each office could still provide its own content, but technical functions could occur elsewhere, freeing up export specialists to focus on trade.

For more:
- download the report, OIG-13-010-I (.pdf)

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