The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Border Agency Denies Sewage, Flooding and Dam Break Dangers

Bush Holdovers Perpetuate Pattern of Abuse and Malfeasance without Oversight


An obscure but key federal agency responsible for dams, wastewater
treatment and flood control on the U.S.-Mexican border maintains that
it has "resolved" or is remedying every one of an array of major
environmental infrastructure weaknesses cited in various governmental
reviews, according to correspondence posted today by Public Employees
for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The scandal-scarred agency is
run by a Bush holdover appointee, operating without outside oversight.

The little-known United States Section, International Boundary
and Water Commission (USIBWC) has been crippled by mismanagement
"threatening its essential responsibilities for flood control and water
management in the American Southwest", according to a report from the
State Department Inspector General (IG). The State Department only
provides "foreign policy guidance" to USIBWC, leaving the 120-year old
agency free to makes its own decisions about dams, levees, flood
control channels and water treatment plants along the border.

In an August 13th letter, Sally Spener, a USIBWC spokesperson, hotly
disputed PEER's characterization of her agency as "the most incompetent
and abusive in federal service". The USIBWC argues that its management
problems have all been solved, citing a State Department IG follow-up
report. While noting some short-term improvements, that follow-up
report repeated the grave concerns of its original review:

"The USIBWC is out of the national limelight, but a major storm and
flood could overwhelm the barriers and cause considerable damage. This
would usher in bouts of finger pointing between Departments, agencies,
and jurisdictions concerned."

"The water infrastructure on our border with Mexico gets far less
attention than security issues, although effects from infrastructure
failure could be far more calamitous," stated PEER Executive Director
Jeff Ruch. "This Commission is a 19th century institution grappling
with a 21st century challenge."

The State Department IG again strongly recommended action to cure the lack of oversight at USIBWC:

"The agency is simply too small, too isolated, and too vulnerable to
management abuse to continue without the protection and oversight of a
major government department."

PEER charges that the lack of oversight in this agency threatens
horrendous water pollution, disastrous flooding and waste of tens of
millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds. During the past week,
current and former Commission employees have contacted PEER to report
ongoing problems, including:

  • Retaliation against whistleblowers who report legal violations, waste or threats to public safety;
  • Rampant crony hiring and other personnel abuses; and
  • Disregarding laws and rules designed to prevent waste and malfeasance.

"At USIBWC, it is as if the inauguration of President Obama never
occurred," added Ruch, noting that the current Commissioner, C.W.
"Bill" Ruth is a Bush appointee who serves at the pleasure of the
President. "The Obama administration cannot meet its pledges to
transform government if it continues to ignore accountability-free
zones like this agency."


See problems plaguing USIBWC

Look at USIBWC protest to PEER

Read the PEER response

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.