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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jess Ford of GAO on US Government Assistance to Mexico

by Fernando Ruiz

International Consortium on Government Financial Management (ICGFM) held a luncheon in the Carnegie Mellon Endowment for International Peace on Wednesday, September 8. The speaker was Jess Ford of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) who spoke about United States assistance to Mexico in the ongoing fight against the drug cartels on the Mexico-US border.

The essence of Mr. Ford’s presentation was the management of aid going to the Merida Initiative which is a joint program between the United States and Mexico to combat the threats of drug trafficking, and money laundering on the border. According to Mr. Ford, since 2007 the United States has been ramping up its aid to Mexico and Central America in order to fight drug trafficking. US assistance has been heavy on equipment and technical assistance such as the training of police.

The objective of the aid has also shifted and is now concentrated on judicial reform, human rights and community development. The GAO’s main role has been speeding up the pace of assistance delivery which has been very slow. As of March 2010, only 46 percent of the funds had been released and the program was signed into law in June of 2008.

Some of the difficulties lie in the State Department which has been the overseer of the program. It simply has not had a modern enough system to track the status of the funding and could only track outputs with no outcome measurements or targets. Several other government organizations track the status and data on the program but none of them share a standard language and methodology, further exacerbating the problem.

Another major concern in this effort according to Mr. Ford is the lack of a consistent strategy by Mexico and other Central American countries to combat drug trafficking.

Mr. Ford concluded with his “lesson learned” about the program and its funding. He placed an emphasis on the need to build institutional capacity for the program and properly train personnel.

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