Washington, DC — A little-known agency called the United States Section, International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC) is arguably the most incompetent and abusive in federal service, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Lack of any oversight in this agency threatens horrendous water pollution, disastrous flooding and waste of tens of millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds.
Created 120 years ago, the USIBWC implements border treaties with Mexico and, in so doing, operates several international dams and water treatment plants along the border. The current Commissioner, C.W. “Bill” Ruth is a lame-duck Bush appointee who serves at the pleasure of the President.
A 2005 State Department Inspector General report concluded that “Internal management problems have engulfed USIBWC, threatening its essential responsibilities for flood control and water management in the American Southwest.” Since that report, conditions have only deteriorated:
- Two international storage dams operated by USIBWC have been rated unsafe. Millions of residents on both sides of the border are at high risk of inundation by floods due to the disrepair;
- Two water treatment plants located in the U.S., located in Nogales, Arizona and San Ysidro, California, are both under court orders to clean up their effluent; and
- In 2008, Ambos, Mexico (across the border from Nogales, Arizona) sustained millions of dollars in damages as a result of the crumbling USIBWC-built flood channel whose needed repairs were not on the agency’s priority list.
Meanwhile, the USIBWC, based in El Paso, Texas, has received $220 million in Recovery Act funds, to build levees along the Rio Grande. Whereas some of the levees are planned to protect cities along the border, the USIBWC is building questionable agricultural levees in other areas of Texas and New Mexico.
“We can understand the Obama administration being focused on big issues but it needs to pay some mind to these dusty corners of government because the consequences of neglect can be epic,” said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Numerous reports say that this agency is in crying need of oversight – the one thing it is not getting.”
For years, USIBWC, where the Commissioner sets his own salary, has been the setting for scandal and abuse witnessed at the agency. The State IG report cited “an alarming departure of key Personnel” and crippling management weaknesses. Not surprisingly, USIBWC employees are among the unhappiest employees in the federal government, according to surveys by the Partnership for Public Service. The agency ranks near the bottom on every category and dead last when it comes to “effective leadership”.
“The leadership circle in this place should be swept out,” Ruch added. “The Obama administration should also consider sponsoring legislation to bring this rogue operation under the reins of regular accountability controls.”