Tuesday, July 28, 2009

US Mission Mexico: Some Good News, Some Bad News

Well run mission but possibility for officer burnout and internal controls breakdown

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, accompanied by Charge d'Affaires Leslie A. Bassett, inaugurates newly constructed workspace to increase the visa processing capacity of the Consular Section of the U.S.Embassy in Mexico City. March 25, 2009, Mexico City. [State Department photo]

The OIG has released its recent inspection report on US Mission Mexico. Initially marked "SBU" or Sensitive But Unclassified, the OIG reports are normally posted online not too long after their official release. Some of these reports are redacted and there are classified portions that the public do not get to see but they usually give a fuller look on the operation of every section in an embassy within a specific time frame. These reports identify systemic problems such as lack of resources and normally gives a rundown on internal challenges like morale and staffing, and external factors such as local challenges and policy impact. OIG inspections make some bad managers jittery; but methinks this is an excellent tool for great managers constantly looking at improving their operations. Why? Well, for one thing, State is not known for having a risk-averse culture for nothing; really. Not very many people are going to march into the Front Office and tell their ambassador here is what's wrong 1,2,3. Second, it's lonely at the top (this is not necessarily unique to the Foreign Service). Once you're in the Front Office (or in the executive suite), people tend to tell you things that they think you want to hear. But what they won't tell the boss, they might tell the OIG inspectors.

This inspection took place in Washington, DC, between August 4 and October 3, 2008; in Mexico City between October 6 and November 25, 2008. Bush appointee from Texas, Antonio O. Garza, Jr., was the US Ambassador to Mexico from 2002-2009. His number 2, was career diplomat, Leslie A. Bassett who is currently the DCM at US Embassy Manila and was the Deputy Chief of Mission in Mexico when this inspection was conducted.

Almost everyone knows that the US Mission in Mexico is big. But you don’t realize how big until you see the numbers. If confirmed as US Ambassador to Mexico, Carlos Pascual will have his hands full. From the OIG report:

Mission Mexico, consisting of an embassy, seven consulates general, two consulates, and 14 consular agencies, is one of the largest U.S. missions in the world. The magnitude of the consular operation is staggering: 20 percent of all arrests of Americans abroad occur in a single consular district in Tijuana. Consulate General Ciudad Juarez processes more IVs than any other post in the world. Embassy Mexico City processes more NIVs than any other post in the world except Embassy Seoul.

Because of the consular workload, 10 percent of all entry-level officers (ELO) in the U.S. Foreign Service are assigned to Mexican posts. With such numbers, Mexican experience will have an important influence on the next generation of Foreign Service officers.

The OIG team found that Mission Mexico is well run, with strong leadership from the Ambassador and DCM. Morale is generally good. The Ambassador and the DCM promote entry-level professional development. Interagency coordination and cooperation is outstanding. Mission Mexico is a success in representing and advancing the interests of the United States in a key country. The mission is, however, significantly understaffed and underfunded.

The consular workload per individual officer already exceeds worldwide norms. For example, in Consulate General Ciudad Juarez, each officer must process almost twice as many IVs as the other large IV processing posts elsewhere in the world. The NIV workload for the mission will dramatically increase in the next few years as the mission is expected to receive more than five million applications for renewal of border crossing cards. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative will require uncounted numbers of American citizens resident in Mexico to acquire passports for the first time. The violence associated with narcotics traffickers has dramatically increased the workload of the mission’s security officers, and introduces uncertainty in projecting the workload of most mission operations. Implementation of President Bush’s and President Calderon’s Merida Initiative against narcotics traffickers will increase the staffing levels in Mexico City by more than 50.

Up to now, Staffing in the management section has failed to keep pace with even the modest growth in consular and other staffing. It is altogether inadequate to support the projected large increases in consular and Merida Initiative staffing.


Resource shortages will result in officer burnout and the breakdown of internal controls.

Unless addressed, the shortage of resources will jeopardize Mission Mexico’s current success in meeting its goals.

Related Item: OIG Report Number ISP-I-09-21A |Embassy Mexico City, Mexico | April 2009

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