International Boundary and Water Commission:

U.S. Operations Need More Financial Oversight

NSIAD-98-238: Published: Sep 28, 1998. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 1998.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission, focusing on: (1) the sources and uses of the U.S. Section's funds; (2) certain aspects of the U.S. Section's system of accounting and internal controls; (3) the cost-sharing arrangements for joint projects between the United States and Mexico; (4) the administration of U.S Section operations and maintenance contracts; and (5) the extent of oversight over the U.S. Section's programs and operations.

GAO noted that: (1) the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission has received total funding of approximately $217.9 million over the last 4 years; (2) the funds were from appropriations and grants or payments from other federal agencies and state and local governments; (3) it also received reimbursement from the Mexican government for costs incurred on joint projects; (4) the U.S. Section expended $46.7 million in fiscal year 1997, including $21.9 million from its appropriations and $24.8 million from grants and payments from others; (5) the funds were used for salaries and benefits, administrative costs, operation and maintenance of International Boundary and Water Commission projects, and construction activities; (6) the cost-sharing agreements between the United States and Mexico for two recently completed projects had payment terms that varied from those used on other joint developments; (7) for these two projects, the United States agreed to finance Mexico's share of costs due to Mexico's economic difficulties and in order to cover the cost of meeting environmental standards of the United States, which are higher than those in Mexico; (8) this resulted in $8.6 million worth of increased costs to the United States; (9) the total investment for those two projects--Nogales, Arizona, and South Bay, California--is $321.9 million; (10) there are weaknesses in certain aspects of the U.S. Section's finance and accounting systems; (11) regarding the administration of U.S Section operations and maintenance contracts, required monthly reports on contractor performance were not submitted; (12) oversight of the U.S. Section is minimal; (13) although the Department of State reviews the U.S. Section's budget submission and provides policy guidance to the U.S. Commissioner, the Section is not a constituent part of State and, therefore, the Department does not formally examine the Section's managerial activities because it operates administratively as an independent agency; (14) while the Environmental Protection Agency funds some projects along the southwest border, it only reviews U.S. Section contracts and monitors resulting construction projects where it is a major contributor; and (15) the U.S. Commissioner informed GAO in a July 1998 letter that actions have been taken or are in progress to correct the deficiencies discussed in this report.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On September 1, 1999, the International Boundary and Water Commission indicated that a yearend financial statement audit will be performed by the Department of State Inspector General's contract auditing firm. These audits will be performed annually, as recommended.

    Matter: In order to provide greater oversight over International Boundary and Water Commission operations, Congress may wish to consider requiring the U.S. Commissioner to obtain annual financial statement audits of the U.S. Section's activities by an independent accounting firm in accordance with generally accepted government auditing standards.


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