The mission of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) is to provide safe, clean drinking water and to remove waste safely at a reasonable cost for 1.6 million customers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Under Maryland law, the commissioners establish WSSC policies while the general manager leads the staff in implementing the policies.

For decades, the commission operated efficiently and enjoyed a reputation as a first-class utility. But in recent years, its business has been handled with gross ineptness based on crass political and personal interests ["Politics Fuels WSSC's Woes, Observers Say; Two County Executives Show Different Priorities," Metro, July 29].

The primary consideration for appointment of commissioners should be competence. County councils and executives need to replace the incumbents with commissioners who have strong professional or business backgrounds. The choice of general manager, deputy general manager and general counsel also should be based on competence, not political affiliation or ethnic origin.

The public health is in jeopardy. We must remove appointees and officials who fail to act, and we need an external audit to determine the scope of any malfeasance. Nothing less can determine the truth.

KEVIN P. MALONEY

Bethesda

ELIZABETH BUCK

Upper Marlboro

The writers are former chairmen of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Their views represent those of three other former commission chairmen from both counties.