Obscure Border Agency Worst in Federal Government

For Immediate Release


Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Obscure Border Agency Worst in Federal Government

Chronic Mismanagement Threatens Flooding and Sanitation Catastrophes

WASHINGTON - 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

  • 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

"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."

Read the State Department Inspector General Report

See the FEMA list of "high hazard" federal dams

View one of the court orders on polluting USIBWC water treatment systems

Look at the USIBWC employee ratings

Find out about the current budget


Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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