A Proven Leader: Ana Hinojosa Plays Key Role in U.S. Government's Capacity Building Efforts
When Ana Hinojosa first learned that U.S. Customs and Border Protection was looking for a candidate to serve as the director of compliance and facilitation at the World Customs Organization, she took an introspective look at her 28 year career with the agency and believed she would be a good fit. Hinojosa, who is now the deputy assistant commissioner of CBP’s Office of International Affairs, realized that her collective experiences made her very well qualified for the job.
“All of the challenges that I’ve dealt with have prepared me for this position,” said Hinojosa. I started working for the U.S. Customs Service, CBP’s legacy agency, when I was in college, so this was my first real job outside of the university. For the last 28 years I have worked in every facet of customs—from fines and penalties procedures to overseeing what we’re doing in the passenger environment to narcotics arrests, immigration issues and agriculture concerns.”
Hinojosa also has been integrally involved with helping other customs administrations with their capacity building. “A big piece of what we do in our international engagement is provide subject matter expertise and capacity building to our foreign partners throughout the world,” said Hinojosa. Some of that capacity building is related to traditional trade missions. But CBP also assists other countries with coordinated border management, risk management, fraudulent documents and other areas where training is needed.
Building a Safer World
“We have a vested interest in ensuring that the partners that we do business with—whether it’s through global trade or the exchange of tourism—are economically viable,” said Hinojosa. “Because then they can protect their borders, protect their civil societies, and that, in turn, protects us. If we can make a country safer, we can make the world safer,” she said.
CBP works closely with other government agencies such as the U.S. Department of State; U.S. Agency for International Development, also known as USAID; the U.S. Department of Commerce; U.S. Department of Defense, and donors such as the World Bank that fund certain types of capacity building activities. “They don’t have the subject matter expertise in-house to provide the technical assistance that’s needed,” explained Hinojosa. “So they come to CBP to provide subject matter experts who can deliver specific training that we need in a particular country. For example, if there’s a need for instruction in X-ray reading or concealment training, we have trainers on our staff to do that.”
The value of the technical expertise is seen as critical. “It’s essential that we can share U.S. government and CBP expertise and lessons learned with other countries, so that we can exchange best practices as we all move forward in customs modernization efforts,” said Virginia Brown, the director of trade and regulatory reform for USAID, the U.S. government’s largest provider of technical assistance and capacity building efforts overseas. “We’re working with CBP to facilitate trade—to grow trade—because from a development point of view, a country that increases its trade has a much better chance of showing long-term sustained economic growth,” said Brown. At the same time, she noted, from a customs standpoint, “We’re working with CBP to ensure our assistance activities balance facilitation with compliance and revenue collection.”
Hinojosa, a senior leader who currently oversees CBP’s technical assistance division, plays a key role in the U.S. government’s capacity building efforts. “I’ve been working with Ana as the go-to person since she came to CBP’s Office of International Affairs a year and a half ago. She coordinates CBP’s international programs with USAID’s in-country missions and our resources,” said Brown. “When we turn to her, we know that we can trust her judgment and her subject matter expertise to help us find the skills within CBP that we need for our assistance programs.”
For example, during 2013, under Hinojosa’s direction, CBP worked closely with USAID to identify the best ways to assist countries in Africa. In Tanzania, USAID invested $30 million to improve the country’s ports and facilitate trade. Other capacity building programs included significant investments in West, East, and Southern Africa.
“We partner with USAID to help them identify what a country’s needs are and how to ensure that trade is, in fact, facilitated so that there is better efficiency around the world,” said Hinojosa. “That could mean finding the right equipment, implementing new procedures, obtaining regulatory cooperation, or asking for the right data to do risk assessments.”
Similarly, Hinojosa has guided capacity building efforts in other regions of the world such as Asia. Last spring, funded by the State Department, CBP subject matter experts provided targeting risk management training for China’s General Administration of Customs.
“My role in the Office of International Affairs has given me insight into the various levels of development in the world trade arena—by region and by country,” said Hinojosa. “It also has given me exposure to many of the individual country representatives who have personally given me feedback as to what some of their challenges are. The challenges are different from the challenges the United States faces. And I am acutely aware that there is no cookie cutter model for an international trade process,” she said. “Every country has its own dynamics. Every country has its own challenges, its own strengths. And if we can take the strength of the whole and the lessons that we’ve learned as a collective, we can give customs administrations the best chance to develop and help their countries grow to be as economically competitive and secure as possible.”
Hinojosa added that as the WCO’s director of compliance and facilitation, she would work closely with the capacity building directorate. “It’s extremely important to have very close collaboration among all three directorates of the WCO,” she said. “We need to move in a synergistic manner to push the mission of the World Customs Organization.”
“Under Ana’s leadership, we’ve been trying to build a new cadre of technical experts within CBP who can participate in capacity building missions, so that we can increase and enhance our work with the WCO,” said David Dolan, a former CBP attaché to the WCO in Brussels and the current director of CBP’s international organizations and agreements division.
Hinojosa also has led a number of initiatives including heading the U.S. delegation at the WCO’s capacity building committee and integrity subcommittee meetings this week. Additionally, she participated in the WCO Partnerships in Customs Academic Research and Development, or PICARD, Conference in Mexico City last year; CBP’s Authorized Economic Operator, AEO, International Day, which drew representatives from 25 countries; several Pathways to Prosperity Program events, and a WCO accreditation course for potential trainers that was recently held at CBP’s Advanced Training Center in West Virginia.
“I was impressed with just how rigorous the training was and the level of integrity that goes into making sure that only those who are truly going to represent and embody the efforts of the WCO are going to be certified. That speaks volumes and certainly made me interested to be part of the organization,” said Hinojosa.
Earlier in her career, Hinojosa learned a lot by training others. In 1994, when the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, came into effect, Hinojosa was selected by the U.S. Customs Service to be one of the NAFTA trainers. She trained both customs personnel in the U.S. and in Mexico, helping with the implementation of the new free trade agreement.
Around that same time, because of her fluency in Spanish, Hinojosa was asked to provide customs modernization technical assistance in Costa Rica. “I was one of two subject matter experts who traveled to Costa Rica to do an assessment of the country’s importing and trade processes,” she said. “We identified areas that needed regulatory improvement, procedural changes, and additional capacity building to improve how the Costa Rican customs administration collected duties to ensure freer movement of trade in and out of the country.” Then, Hinojosa designed additional training sessions that needed to take place in Costa Rica and she set up a work plan. “This was my first exposure to an international support mission,” she said.
This experience led to a more expansive project for Hinojosa in Honduras. During the mid-1990s, Hinojosa served as a technical advisor in Honduras on a two-person team for 18 months. “We did an assessment of the Honduran customs service in land, air, and sea environments,” she said. “We came up with a work plan of different areas where we needed to bring capacity building subject matter experts to train the inspectional, trade adjudicating and laboratory customs staff.” The experts were brought in from the U.S. for an additional 18 month period to help modernize the Honduran customs service.
“Ana is a seasoned customs professional, who can draw from her extensive experience as well as collaborate with others to find positive solutions and get real results,” said Brown. “Having worked on the U.S. southern border and then with our Latin American partners, she’s really seen how we can work together with partner countries to both facilitate trade and secure our borders.”
Hinojosa would bring other attributes to the job. “I’ve been involved in the WCO for the past 10 years, and I see qualities in her that will be of great value to the WCO,” said Dolan, “Ana has an ability to engage people at all levels with great effectiveness.
Dolan also noted Hinojosa’s passion and energy. “Ana has a keen ability to motivate and lead people,” he said. “She’s also not afraid to take chances in a way that will help innovate. When I look at her career and the experience that she’s gained, all of these things will very much help the WCO and its members advance,” said Dolan. “She has experience in compliance, regulatory issues, and enforcement—the practical work customs administrations do—but at the same time she knows how to transform and be innovative in the world that we’re living in now, especially in the area of facilitation.”
USAID’s Brown concurs. As she sees it, by electing Hinojosa, the WCO’s members “will be gaining a proven leader—someone who can help move the WCO forward in a very changing world for customs administrations, “said Brown. “I think Ana, especially with her length of experience at CBP and all of the changes that she’s seen in her customs career, brings the knowledge of how customs needs to be agile, how important that is. She can bring this to the WCO as it continues to hone its vision for the future.”