For Immediate Release
Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Border Agency Axes Top Lawyer for Whistleblower Complaint
General Counsel Fired for Not Being "Collegial" in Reporting Waste and Abuse
WASHINGTON - The federal agency responsible for wastewater treatment and flood
control projects on the U.S.-Mexico border ousted its General Counsel
just three days after he reported waste, fraud and abuse to oversight
agencies, according to legal briefs filed today by Public Employees for
Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The agency's termination letter
stated that that the lawyer was fired for being less than "collegial"
in writing legal opinions protesting violations by top agency
Robert McCarthy, General Counsel for the United
States Section, International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC),
with headquarters in El Paso, Texas, had cautioned the agency about
financial abuses, including a $220 million Recovery Act flood control
project which threatened the safety of millions of border residents.
McCarthy's legal opinions also warned about improper expenditures,
illegal manipulation of payrolls, secret surveillance of USIBWC
employees, and other abuses.
On July 28, 2009, McCarthy
informed Bill Ruth, the holdover USIBWC Commissioner appointed by
President Bush, that he had disclosed these concerns to the Office of
Special Counsel, State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG),
Office of White House Counsel and the Government Accountability Office.
Three days later, Ruth ordered McCarthy's termination. Ruth's removal
letter cited McCarthy's legal memoranda, stating the memos demonstrated
McCarthy's "continued failure to support me...in a constructive and
collegial manner ... [which] leaves me no other recourse."
on the day he fired McCarthy, Ruth submitted testimony to Congress in
which he boasted "We have made implementing the Recovery Act a top
priority and are pleased to report that we are moving forward quickly,
efficiently and with an unprecedented level of transparency and
accountability...the public is encouraged to report instances of waste,
fraud and abuse to the Department of State OIG...."
McCarthy's behalf, PEER has filed a whistleblower retaliation complaint
with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) demanding his immediate
"We expect government lawyers to uphold the law,
not compete for Miss Congeniality," stated PEER Counsel Christine
Erickson who filed the complaint. "Documents in this case show a rogue
agency acting without regard for law, regulation or even common sense."
Among McCarthy's disclosures was that USIBWC planned to build
"cosmetic" levees along the Rio Grande in order to give the appearance
of flood control while leaving residents vulnerable to seasonal
inundation. In Presidio County, Texas, the agency planned to patch up
structurally deficient levees damaged by a previous flood, with full
knowledge that the repairs would not withstand even a minor flood, and
that the levees themselves are located on unstable ground. In Hidalgo
County, the agency planned to divert flood control funds to subsidize
building a border barrier.
PEER has previously labeled the
USIBWC the worst agency in the federal government, pointing to, among
other things, a 2005 State Department Inspector General report which
concluded that "Internal management problems have engulfed USIBWC,
threatening its essential responsibilities for flood control and water
management in the American Southwest."
"Under Bush appointees,
the USIBWC has become a bureaucratic basket case desperately in need of
external intervention," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting
that his group has been contacted in the past few weeks by several
current and former agency employees reporting similar problems. "Not
only is the appointment of a new Commissioner long overdue but this
tiny agency should be put under the State Department's management
control to prevent these fiascos from recurring."
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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.