The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Inspector General Swoops Down on Border Agency

Commissioner Takes Leave as Agents Arrive to Scour Files and Computers


A team of investigators from the State Department's Office of
Inspector General descended on El Paso, Texas this week, following
claims of fraud, waste and abuse by top officials at the United States
Section, International Boundary and Water Commission (USIBWC),
according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Investigators may not be able to interview the head of the agency,
however, because Commissioner Bill Ruth has abruptly departed on
personal leave.

The Inspector General is launching a
wide-ranging investigation into disclosures by USIBWC General Counsel
Robert McCarthy that the agency violated numerous federal laws and
regulations, including alleged mismanagement of a $220 million Recovery
Act program to raise levees along the Rio Grande.
On July 28,
2009, McCarthy reported to the Inspector General that USIBWC officials
had conducted secret surveillance of agency employees, altered official
government records, made false reports to the Inspector General,
manipulated payrolls, misappropriated funds, built substandard levees
and operated unsafe dams and wastewater treatment plants.

days later, on July 31, 2009, Commissioner Ruth, a holdover Bush
appointee, terminated McCarthy's employment on the grounds that the
attorney was insufficiently "congenial." McCarthy has challenged that
action through an appeal with the United States Merit Systems
Protection Board (MSPB), which reviews illegal personnel actions,
charging unlawful retaliation for protected whistleblowing.

Inspector General investigators in El Paso this week are concentrating
on claims that officials altered federal documents to cover up other
malfeasance. A forensic computer specialist will be looking for
evidence that electronic communications or other documents were
illegally altered or destroyed. Another investigator has been lining up
interviews with current and former USIBWC employees.

"This is
the first of several teams of investigators expected to visit the
agency over the coming weeks," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch,
who welcomed the investigation. "Hopefully this probe will be the first
step in rooting out the culture of corruption that has characterized
this agency for too long."

PEER is calling on the Obama
Administration to remove Commissioner Ruth pending the appointment of a
new Commissioner, to reinstate McCarthy, and to institute structural
reforms making the agency accountable to the State Department.

Inspector General will not be looking into McCarthy's claims of
retaliation. "That issue is separate from other illegal conduct that
Mr. McCarthy disclosed," noted PEER Staff Counsel Christine Erickson,
who filed the retaliation complaint on McCarthy's behalf. "We are
seeking to rescind Mr. McCarthy's removal as soon as possible. The law
is supposed to ensure that public servants need not risk their careers
in order to shine a light on malfeasance."


Read Robert McCarthy's disclosure to the Inspector General

Look at his whistleblower case on illegal retaliation

See prior scathing State Department IG report on USIBWC

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.