Skip to Main Content
Project on Government Oversight
 

 

 

 

POGO Report Uncovers Bajagua’s Murky Deal

April 4, 2006 

 

A report released by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) finds that although the awarding of sole-source and no-bid contracts received special scrutiny after Hurricane Katrina, the process of using extensive political influence to receive such contacts has existed for a long time.

The report "The Politics of Contracting: Bajagua's No-Bid Deal" examines the Bajagua Wastewater Treatment Plant project as one example of how a company used political influence to gain a advantage that may be disadvantageous for the American people. 

In 1996, the Bajagua Project LLC, which is a private company, proposed building and operating a wastewater treatment plant in Mexico to address the pollution coastal areas along the U.S. border between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico have experienced for decades.

However, the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which handles bi-national water agreements and border sanitation issues, had ruled years before that the plant should be built in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also rejected Bajagua's proposal. 

At that point, the company approached Representatives Brian Bilbray (R-CA) and Bob Filner (D-CA) about introducing to facilitate the construction and operation of a wastewater treatment plant in Mexico, before the Mexican government had agreed to the construction of a plant in their country.  Ultimately, the legislation was enacted into a law that was designed to make Bajagua the recipient of a contract to build the plant.

"Unfortunately, the Bajagua story is illustrative, not because it is unusual, but that it shows how politics can get in the way of good government contracting," said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian.

POGO has found that since 1996, when Bajagua proposed building the wastewater treatment plant, the principals of the company, their family members, and one of the company's attorneys have given thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to Members of Congress. These contributions have primarily gone to the local San Diego congressional delegation, which engineered the deal for Bajagua.

The company also hired former policymakers to lobby for the legislation. These include a former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, a State Department official who had also worked for the White House, and former Representative Brian Bilbray.  Bajagua representatives also met with Vice President Dick Cheney and federal opposition to the Bajagua project was reversed sometime afterward.

Since the San Diego Tribune's coverage of POGO's report, POGO also recently found that the lead attorney for Bajagua, Gary Sirota, is also referred to as the "Principal architect and co-author" of the legislation that authorized the contract.  POGO has also uncovered two letters from IBWC to former California Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham regarding the deal.

Letter from International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to Rep. "Duke" Cunningham, October 27, 2003. 

Letter from the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to Rep. "Duke" Cunningham, September 22, 2003.

 


Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

# # #