From: George Gedda, Associated Press
Published April 8, 2005 12:00 AM

Report Assails U.S. Border Commissioner in Charge of Water Issues

WASHINGTON — Management of a U.S. commission that oversees water issues along the Mexican border has been so deficient that the agency may not be able to meet its basic mission, according to a State Department report.


The commission says the department is just trying to take it over.


The 60-page report by the State Department's inspector general's office examined Arturo Duran's 15-month tenure as head of the El Paso-based U.S. section of the International Boundary and Water Commission.


As a result of his personnel moves, morale at the agency plummeted, the report said. "A climate of fear and disaffection spread."


The commission, often referred to by its initials, USIBWC, operates wastewater treatment plants and a drinkable-water treatment plant. It also oversees the operation of a Mexican wastewater treatment plant.


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The Mexican government runs a companion commission in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso.


The State Department bears "clear foreign policy oversight" over the U.S. commission, the report said, recommending stricter department monitoring of personnel matters to curb abuses.


The report was posted on the State Department Web site.


A commission statement said in response that the report erroneously suggested that the agency was a State Department subdivision. The agency described itself as an "independent federal commission"


The statement said Duran's exercise of authority had been appropriate.


The report's true purpose was to ensure that the commission will come under full State Department authority, a move that would rob the agency of an independent history dating 115 years, the statement said.


"The USIBWC has taken a proactive and constructive approach to the inspection and has already taken steps to implement some of the reports recommendations," the statement said.


Duran, 37, was born and raised in Mexico and moved to the United States after completing high school. Before his appointment by President Bush, he served as a manager of the water authority in El Paso. He also worked for the Environmental Protection Agency on environmental restoration and waste management programs. He has been active in the Republican Party.


According to the report, a wave of personnel changes ordered by Duran "prompted a letter-writing campaign by former and present employees, begging for outside oversight of the commissioner's action."


It said stakeholders Duran initially cultivated realize that he "has provoked a hemorrhage of qualified personnel, personnel who protect against floods, monitor the safety of water, and assure backup electrical power for Texas."


The study said Duran had sufficient leeway to set his own salary. His current income, which was not disclosed, is now equivalent to that of a Cabinet deputy secretary or armed forces secretary.


Source: Associated Press


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