Secretary Antony J. Blinken to U.S. Mission Mexico

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, John, thank you very, very much, and hello, everybody.  It is wonderful to be with you virtually, and hopefully at some point soon in person.  But thanks so much to our Charge D’affaires John Creamer – John, for your leadership and for that very kind introduction.  I want to say thank you as well, to Yvonne Gonzales and Naomi Fellows, for their hard work as the control officers for this unique visit.  I’m wondering exactly what kind of wheels up party you’re going to have, when I quote-unquote, “leave.”  Maybe it’s a link-down party.  We need to find some kind of new terminology for it.  But I’m really grateful for all you’ve done to make this possible.  And I really do wish I could be with you in person today, but I’m delighted that we’re pioneering virtual travel together.

With your help, we put together a strong itinerary for my first trip to Mexico as Secretary.  We’ve got meetings with leaders across the Mexican Government, a virtual tour of the El Paso/Ciudad Juarez port of entry.  By the end of the week, I think we will have touched on many of the critical issues that the United States and Mexico deal with together: migration, security, economic growth, regional competitiveness, environmental sustainability.  We could literally stretch this visit out for weeks and still have more issues to cover, because, as you know better than anyone, our relationship with Mexico is one of the most comprehensive we have in the world.  And I very much agree with John, this really is one of the most important relationships we have with any country anywhere.

And that’s why I’m visiting Mexico during my very first trip as Secretary.  The family, the cultural, the economic, the security, the political, the legal ties we have with Mexico are vast. And you, the women and men of Mission Mexico, are responsible for maintaining those ties every single day.

So I really wanted to just say one very simple thing at the outset, and that’s thank you.  Whether you’re direct hire employees, locally employed staff, family members, whether you work for the State Department or for one of the many other U.S. Government agencies represented here from Treasury to the FDA to the DOJ, you are part of this mission.  So thank you for serving the United States.  And thank you for shaping and leading this complex diplomatic partnership, which is so vital to American interests, and maybe more than anything else, directly affects millions of American families, millions of American lives every day.

I have some sense from my past service that this work is often difficult.  I know it takes sacrifice, and that’s in normal times.  This past year has been particularly hard because of COVID-19. You’ve lost 21 colleagues to the virus, including contractors and local guards.  That’s devastating. And I know that many more of you have gotten sick or seen loved ones get sick.  So I want you to know that stopping this pandemic is our number one priority.  Nothing matters more to me than your health and safety.  That is job one.  So I’m determined to do everything we can to make sure that all our Mission Mexico employees and eligible family members are vaccinated as soon as possible in every consulate across the country.  I don’t think it’s a secret that there have been logistical challenges, but I want to tell you the administration is working fast, and we will give you as much information as we can as soon as we can as we make our vaccination plans and we execute on them.

We have to be partners in this every step of the way, and I’m determined that we move this as quickly as we possibly can.  I also want to acknowledge the extraordinary work that you’ve done to keep this embassy functioning throughout the pandemic.  Consulate General Monterrey managed to process more than a quarter million H-2 visas last year, and that in turn helps secure the U.S. food supply chain.  Mission Mexico adjudicated more than 40 percent of all non-immigrant visas worldwide.  That’s remarkable.  Last time I was in Mexico as deputy secretary, I spent some time visiting with Consular Affairs, visiting with the American services folks, and I know what a remarkable job you’re doing every day, and again, in this pandemic, what was already a challenging task has become even more so.

You’ve ensured that critical manufacturing and service supply chains stayed operational.  USAID kept its work going with farmers and communities in southern Mexico, helping them switch to more sustainable land management practices.  And on the public diplomacy front, you continue to engage the Mexican public virtually.  I know you do this work because you believe in it.  It is more than a job; it is truly service.  And I just want you to know that as Secretary, I will try to honor your service by doing all I can to support you.

I know that we have work to do as a department to rebuild trust, rebuild morale.  We’ve got to do a better job listening to the women and men of State when formulating policy.  We’ve got to invest in diversity and inclusion, and I know that’s a priority for this mission.  More broadly, we’ve got to build a workplace culture of collegiality, teamwork, and respect.  I am deeply committed to this work, and I want to be clear:  It doesn’t just apply to the people at Main State. It applies to you and all your colleagues in embassies and consulates around the world.  We are all part of this community, and I am incredibly proud to be your Secretary.  So thank you again for helping make my first virtual trip to Mexico a success.  I look forward to the day when I can be there in person, but mostly, thank you for your service to the United States.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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    The International Joint Commission's (IJC) process for developing and selecting the Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Plan 2014 (Plan 2014) was generally consistent with relevant essential elements of risk-informed decision-making. During the 18-year process, IJC took steps to define objectives and performance measures to be used in its decision-making, identify various options, assess uncertainties like climate change, and engage with stakeholders, among other steps. These steps are all essential elements of risk-informed decision making. Plan 2014 Affects Various Users of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, Including (from Left to Right) Commercial Navigation, Coastal Development, and Recreational Boating, Including Marinas IJC uses two mechanisms—a communications committee and a strategic communication plan—and a variety of methods—such as its website, social media, and public meetings—to communicate with stakeholders about its implementation of Plan 2014. Nevertheless, 12 of the 14 stakeholders GAO interviewed expressed concerns about IJC's communication. GAO found that IJC's strategic communication plan and related documents partially align with best practices. For example, the communication plan and related documents do not comprehensively identify target audiences or include mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the effectivness of their communication efforts. Updating its strategic communication plan to align with best practices and principles for risk communication could help IJC ensure improved stakeholder communication. Of the 14 stakeholders interviewed, nine expressed concerns about the rules and criteria in Plan 2014 and 10 expressed concerns about its implementation. For example, seven stakeholders told us that they do not believe that the Plan allows IJC to act proactively in anticipation of future water conditions. IJC has taken initial steps to develop an adaptive management process that may help address stakeholder concerns and approved a long-term adaptive management strategy in March 2020. However, the document does not fully incorporate the key elements and essential characteristics of an adaptive management process that could help IJC transparently and effectively assess Plan 2014 and adjust future actions to achieve the plan's objectives. For example, the Plan does not fully incorporate a communication strategy for engaging stakeholders throughout the process or information on how IJC will determine if adjustments to the Plan's rules and criteria are warranted. Water releases from Lake Ontario into the St. Lawrence River are determined by a set of regulatory rules and criteria called Plan 2014—issued pursuant to IJC's Supplementary Order of Approval and the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909. The IJC—a binational commission—developed and issued the Plan and Order with the concurrence of the United States and Canada. The rules affect a variety of users of the waterway, including ecosystems, hydropower, and municipal and industrial water use. After flooding from the lake and river in 2017, GAO was asked to examine the process IJC used to develop and evaluate Plan 2014 and how IJC has addressed stakeholder concerns. This report examines (1) the extent to which IJC's process to develop and select Plan 2014 was consistent with essential elements of risk-informed decision-making, (2) actions IJC has taken to communicate with stakeholders about its implementation of Plan 2014 and stakeholder concerns regarding IJC's communication, and (3) stakeholder concerns about Plan 2014 and the extent to which IJC has developed a process to assess and adjust Plan 2014. GAO reviewed Plan 2014 and other IJC documents, interviewed IJC and federal officials and a nongeneralizable sample of 14 stakeholders, selected for a variety of user interests and stakeholder types. GAO is making three recommendations, including that the U.S. Section of the IJC work with its Canadian counterpart to ensure that the communication plan aligns with best practices and the adaptive management strategy fully incorporates key elements. IJC agreed with our recommendations. For more information, contact J. Alfredo Gómez at (202) 512-3841 or gomezj@gao.gov.
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  • Offshore Wind Energy: Planned Projects May Lead to Construction of New Vessels in the U.S., but Industry Has Made Few Decisions amid Uncertainties
    In U.S GAO News
    Under the Jones Act, vessels carrying merchandise between two points in the U.S. must be built and registered in the United States. Developers are planning a number of offshore wind projects along the U.S. east coast, where many states have set targets for offshore wind energy production. Stakeholders described two approaches to using vessels to install offshore wind energy projects in the U.S. Either approach may lead to the construction of new vessels that comply with the Jones Act. Under one approach, a Jones Act-compliant wind turbine installation vessel (WTIV) would carry components from a U.S. port to the site and also install the turbines. WTIVs have a large deck, legs that allow the vessel to lift out of the water, and a tall crane to lift and place turbines. Stakeholders told GAO there are currently no Jones Act-compliant vessels capable of serving as a WTIV. One company, however, has announced a plan to build one. Under the second approach, a foreign-flag WTIV would install the turbines with components carried to the site from U.S. ports by Jones Act-compliant feeder vessels (see figure). While some potential feeder vessels exist, stakeholders said larger ones would probably need to be built to handle the large turbines developers would likely use. Example of an Offshore Wind Installation in U.S. Waters Using a Foreign-Flag Installation Vessel and Jones Act-Compliant Feeder Vessels Stakeholders identified multiple challenges—which some federal programs address—associated with constructing and using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind installations. For example, stakeholders said that obtaining investments in Jones Act-compliant WTIVs—which may cost up to $500 million—has been challenging, in part due to uncertainty about the timing of federal approval for projects. According to officials at the Department of the Interior, which is responsible for approving offshore wind projects, the Department plans to issue a decision on the nation's first large-scale offshore wind project in December 2020. Some stakeholders said that if this project is approved, investors may be more willing to move forward with vessel investments. While stakeholders also said port infrastructure limitations could pose challenges to using Jones Act-compliant vessels for offshore wind, offshore wind developers and state agencies have committed to make port investments. Offshore wind, a significant potential source of energy in the United States, requires a number of oceangoing vessels for installation and other tasks. Depending on the use, these vessels may need to comply with the Jones Act. Because Jones Act-compliant vessels are generally more expensive to build and operate than foreign-flag vessels, using such vessels may increase the costs of offshore wind projects. Building such vessels may also lead to some economic benefits for the maritime industry. A provision was included in statute for GAO to review offshore wind vessels. This report examines (1) approaches to use of vessels that developers are considering for offshore wind, consistent with Jones Act requirements, and the extent to which such vessels exist, and (2) the challenges industry stakeholders have identified associated with constructing and using such vessels to support U.S. offshore wind, and the actions federal agencies have taken to address these challenges. GAO analyzed information on vessels that could support offshore wind, reviewed relevant laws and studies, and interviewed officials from federal agencies and industry stakeholders selected based on their involvement in ongoing projects and recommendations from others. For more information, contact Andrew Von Ah at (202) 512-2834 or vonaha@gao.gov.
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  • U.S. Territories: Public Debt Outlook – 2021 Update
    In U.S GAO News
    What GAO Found Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico): Puerto Rico remains in default. It has finalized three debt restructuring agreements or settlements to date, pursuant to three distinct legal approaches, and it is using one of these approaches to restructure additional debt. Puerto Rico's total public debt outstanding as a share of Gross National Product increased slightly from 93 to 95 percent between fiscal years 2016 and 2017, the most recent year for which audited financial data are available. Puerto Rico's total revenue remained consistent between fiscal years 2016 and 2017 at about $30.0 billion and the territory operated with a $3.1 billion deficit in fiscal year 2017. Puerto Rico's future capacity for debt repayment depends primarily on the outcomes of the ongoing debt restructuring process, its ability to generate sustained economic growth, and the disbursement of federal funding. American Samoa: American Samoa's total public debt outstanding as a share of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased from 19 to 37 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. This increase was partially due to a series of general revenue bonds issued in late 2018 to fund infrastructure projects. During this period, American Samoa's yearly total revenue fluctuated but was 24 percent higher in fiscal year 2019 compared to fiscal year 2017, and the territory had a surplus of $34.0 million in fiscal year 2019. Continued reliance on a single industry and significant pension liabilities remain fiscal risks in American Samoa. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI): CNMI's total public debt outstanding as a share of GDP remained constant at about 8 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. During this period, CNMI's yearly total revenue fluctuated but was 27 percent higher in fiscal year 2019 compared to fiscal year 2017, and the territory had a deficit of $33.3 million in fiscal year 2019. Worsening economic conditions and significant pension liabilities may affect CNMI's future debt repayment capacity. COVID-19 has hurt tourism, CNMI's primary industry. Guam: Guam's total public debt outstanding as a share of GDP decreased slightly from 44 to 42 percent between fiscal years 2017 and 2019. Guam's total revenue increased 7 percent during this period and the territory had a surplus of $112.6 million in fiscal year 2019. Guam faces fiscal risks such as COVID-19's negative impact on tourism, Guam's primary industry, and significant pension liabilities. United States Virgin Islands (USVI): USVI's total public debt outstanding as a share of GDP increased slightly from 68 to 69 percent of GDP between fiscal years 2016 and 2018, the most recent year for which audited financial data are available. During this period, USVI's yearly total revenue fluctuated but was 36 percent higher in fiscal year 2018 compared to fiscal year 2016, and the territory had a deficit of $29.4 million in fiscal year 2018. USVI's capacity for future debt repayment may be affected by its ability to create economic growth and its ability to manage its pension liabilities and address the pending insolvency of its public pension system. USVI's ability to create economic growth may be hampered by the adverse impact of COVID-19 on tourism, USVI's primary industry. Why GAO Did This Study The five permanently inhabited U.S. territories–Puerto Rico, USVI, American Samoa, CNMI, and Guam–borrow through financial markets. Puerto Rico, in particular, has amassed large amounts of debt, and began to default on debt payments in 2015. In 2017, hurricanes caused widespread damage in Puerto Rico and USVI. Further, in 2018, American Samoa, CNMI, and Guam experienced typhoons and cyclones. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the territories' economies is not yet fully known. In June 2016, Congress passed and the President signed the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act. It contains a provision for GAO to review the public debt of the five territories every 2 years. In this report, for each of the five territories, GAO updates (1) trends in public debt and its composition; (2) trends in revenue and its composition, and in overall financial condition; and (3) the fiscal risk factors that affect each territory's ability to repay public debt. GAO analyzed the territories' single audit reports for fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019, as available; reviewed relevant documentation and analyses; and interviewed officials from the territories' governments, federal agencies, and industry groups. For more information, contact Yvonne D. Jones at (202) 512-6806 or jonesy@gao.gov or David Gootnick at (202) 512-3149 or gootnickd@gao.gov.
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