Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The GAO on Mérida

Via Burro Hall, a new GAO report is pretty scathing in terms of what the Mérida Initiative has accomplished. Here's the conclusions section of the report:
The United States has made some progress delivering equipment and training to Mexico and Central America under the Mérida Initiative and supported efforts to combat crime and narcotics trafficking. Nevertheless, violence continues to grow and needs are changing across the region as criminals adjust their activities in reaction to increased law enforcement efforts. This year, State revised its strategy and defined new goals, but left out key elements that would facilitate management and accountability. State generally lacks outcome-based measures that define success in the short term and the long term, making it difficult to determine effectiveness and leaving unclear when the Initiative’s goals will be met. Establishing better performance measures could provide Congress and other stakeholders with valuable information on outcomes, enabling them to make more informed decisions on whether or not policies and approaches might need to be revised and in what ways. Regarding program implementation, there are no timelines for future deliveries of some equipment and training, particularly for a range of capacity building programs that will take on a large role going forward. Provision of time frames for the commencement and completion of programs would set expectations for stakeholders, including the Mexican government, which has expressed concerns about the pace of delivery. It would also facilitate coordination and planning for all organizations involved in implementation.
The report also says that just 9 percent of the money has been spent, with less than half having been allocated. All this squares with what we've seen up to this point from the initiative. The plan was justified at the time of its passage by the likelihood that it would foster cooperation between the two governments, but that in and of itself is a pretty weak goal, aside from being impossible to truly measure. Not surprisingly given the absence of analytical rigor that went into planning and passing the package, much of what has followed has been hampered by the lack of a clear understanding or even the consideration of what Mexico actually needs to improve its security agencies. Hence the initial emphasis on hardware, presumably because it's a lot easier to send a few helicopters southward and point to several hundred million in aid transfers than it is to encourage the painstaking though probably cheaper work (anti-corruption programs, vastly improved police training, penal reform, et cetera) that Mexico needs more of.

On the plus side, it does seem as though some of the problems are being addressed. The mere existence of a report like this is positive. After five years living here, I have to say that it'd be great if Mexico had an agency comparable to the GAO.

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