Dallas lawyer Thomas A. Fry III talks and acts like a guy who's in charge, but in reality, he's "acting" director of the Bureau of Land Management. The 54-year-old Fry is the second acting director of the BLM in five years. Mike Dombeck supervised the BLM for three years as acting director before becoming chief of the Forest Service in 1997.
Fry held various
appointments in the Department of the Interior and was vice
president of a Dallas natural gas company before serving as deputy
BLM director under Pat Shea, who had made the leap from acting
director to confirmed by Congress.
policy rift between the Clinton White House and a
Republican-controlled Congress has kept some BLM bosses in title
"We've not exactly had an easy time with
getting our BLM directors appointed by Congress," says Interior
Secretary Bruce Babbitt. When Dombeck was nominated as BLM
director, Babbitt said, a hostile Congress snubbed Interior and the
Dombeck's predecessor, Jim Baca of
New Mexico, was appointed as director but got squeezed out after
only nine months for crossing Western governors on grazing and
bombing range issues. This time around, the Clinton administration
has yet to officially nominate Fry; a decision is expected in
"I've told Tom to speak and act as if
he's the full-fledged director, and he's doing just that," Babbitt
The lack of a full title does make a
difference in the BLM's stature and in employee morale, says John
Freemuth, political science professor at Boise State University.
Neither the Clinton administration nor Congress could get away with
leaving an unconfirmed director in charge of the National Park
Service or Forest Service, he says.
it sends is that it isn't important enough to get a full-fledged
director in here," Freemuth says. "To the employees, you wonder how
much stock to put in a guy who's just "acting."
Babbitt says, "The BLM hasn't had the
constituency to demand more respect from Congress. But I think
At a recent conference in
Boise, Idaho, Fry championed the BLM as the new "open space
agency." He said it needed to protect recreation areas and wildlife
habitat in cooperation with cities such as Las Vegas, Boise, Idaho
and Durango, Colo.
Fry also urges his employees
to be bold. "Everyone in the BLM should have a get-out-of-jail-free
card," Fry said. "Nobody's going to be slapped down for making