The State Department’s Office of the Science and Technology Adviser (STAS) has been an asset for the State Department in the ten years since its inception. Still, a failure to develop implementation plans and constant personnel and leadership turnover hampered the agency’s overall effectiveness, according to a recent audit from the department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG).

The OIG’s audit of the STAS inspected the agency’s executive direction, policy implementation, operational effectiveness, and resource management.

The audit found that without internal evaluations or implementation plans, leadership could not gauge internal processes and make essential data-informed decisions to manage the office properly. According to the audit, the absence of implementation plans “coupled with STAS staff’s infrequent use of its [Functional Bureau Strategy], decreased STAS’ ability to monitor and adjust its major projects to advance the department’s science and technology mission.”

Additionally, the lack of a firm plan made it difficult for the office to coordinate with other State Department programs.

Leadership personnel turnover has also been a critical issue for STAS, and according to the audit, the lack of stable leadership has trickled down to the rest of the organization. The office also lacked clarity in supervisory roles, and critical staff roles remained unfilled.

“OIG found that this type of leadership turnover was not unusual for STAS. And it created leadership challenges,” the report stated. “These challenges included unclear supervisory roles within STAS and the lack of a fully implemented Equal Employment Opportunity program for the office.”

To resolve these issues, OIG made five recommendations to the STAS:

  • Develop and communicate to staff a plan to implement its Functional Bureau Strategy per department standards.
  • Develop, implement, and train staff on coordination and clearance procedures per department guidelines.
  • Develop procedures that delineate and deconflict the roles and responsibilities of both Regional Technology Officers and Regional Environmental, Science, Technology, and Health Officers per department guidelines.
  • Submit a statement of policy areas of responsibilities per department standards.
  • Nominate a qualified Contracting Officer’s Representative for the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Jefferson Science Fellowship contracts.

In a letter to the OIG, STAS Acting Director Allison Schwier agreed with all five recommendations and offered action plans to resolve the recommendations by the end of 2021.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.