Justice and Law Enforcement:

Status of Funds for the Merida Initiative

GAO-10-253R: Published: Dec 3, 2009. Publicly Released: Dec 3, 2009.

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Violence along the U.S.-Mexico border has escalated in recent years because of drug trafficking and related organized crime activities, with over 12,000 fatalities since 2006. At the same time, gang activity in Central America has increased, further fueling the violence within the region. In an effort to confront the challenges posed by criminal violence, in October 2007, the United States and Mexico announced the Merida Initiative, a $1.4 billion counternarcotics and anticrime assistance package for countries in the region. The Merida Initiative brings a shift in both scale and scope to U.S. assistance to the region, particularly Mexico. For example, under Merida, the average annual counternarcotics and related law enforcement assistance to Mexico increased from about $57 million from 2000 through 2006 to $400 million for fiscal year 2008. Similarly, collaboration between the United States and Mexico has intensified, providing an unprecedented opportunity to address the mutual threat of drug trafficking and organized crime affecting the region. In response to Congressional concerns regarding the pace of assistance, we are providing information on the status of funding provided under the Merida Initiative as of September 30, 2009. Specifically, we describe how much has been appropriated, obligated, and expended. We also identify factors affecting the delivery of major equipment, services, and training; and we provide a timeline of key events related to the initiative. On the basis of Congressional request, we are also conducting a more comprehensive programmatic review of the Merida Initiative to be completed in the summer of 2010. To determine the status of the Merida Initiative assistance funds, we reviewed the Department of State's (State) spending plans for Merida; State budget documents; bilateral agreements between the United States and Mexico, the United States and each of the Central American countries, as well as with Haiti and with the Dominican Republic; and interagency agreements between State and other U.S. agencies implementing Merida-related programs. We also interviewed officials at State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). We conducted our work from September 21, 2009, to December 3, 2009, in accordance with all sections of GAO's Quality Assurance Framework that are relevant to our objectives.

State funds Merida Initiative activities primarily from three appropriations accounts. As of September 30, 2009, State had planned to provide nearly $1.3 billion in appropriated funds to the initiative. According to information provided by State, about two-thirds, or approximately $830 million, had been obligated by the end of September, and about 2 percent, or $26 million, had been expended. We identified several factors that have affected the timing of the Merida funding process and the delivery of assistance to Mexico and Central America: (1) statutory conditions on the funds, (2) challenges in fulfilling administrative procedures, and (3) the need to enhance institutional capacity on the part of both recipient countries and the United States to implement the assistance. Some equipment and technical assistance have been provided, but State could not provide us with a schedule of future assistance deliveries.

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