"Top-to-bottom" ethical review at Interior


The appointment of Ken Salazar as Secretary of Interior revealed – once again – the conflict in the Environmental Movement between the “establishment” (aka the “nationals”) and a set of newer and mostly western environmental organizations (aka the “grassroots”). The establishment generally praised the appointment while the grassroots expressed disappointment. 

But as GOAT Blogger Sarah Gilman pointed out recently,  Salazar quickly canceled 77 controversial oil and gas leases near national parks and on wilderness quality lands in Utah. While I do not share Sarah’s characterization of this action as “a hard turn left,”  Salazar’s prompt action demonstrates that he will be more sensitive to environmental concerns than were Bush’s Interior Secretaries.

There are other good signs of change at Interior. Secretary Salazar announced recently that he will undertake a “top to bottom review” of ethical misconduct at Interior. Salazar said the probe would investigate career employees as well as political appointees.   

Let’s hope the review is as thorough as Salazar says it will be. During the eight years of the Bush Administration a significant number of career employees at Interior implemented policies and actions at the behest of Bush appointees which the career employees knew were not supported by scientific information and/or were contrary to federal laws and regulations. A significant number of Bush appointees have “burrowed in” – taking career jobs with the agency.

Illegal and questionable actions have not ceased at Interior with the election. For example, in the Klamath River Basin questions are being raised by a local supervisor and others concerning the legality of closed-door negotiations which have produced controversial water and dam deals.

Until she was forced to resign as part of the Abramoff scandal, the Bush Administration’s Klamath Initiative was lead by Bush appointee Sue Ellen Wooldridge. The legal and ethical questions which are being raised now on the Klamath all stem from actions which were put into motion under Wooldridge’s direction. Here are questions which some Klamath River activists want the Salazar review to answer:

      •    What role did Ms. Wooldridge and other Interior officials play in highjacking negotiations over Klamath River dams and using the dam negotiation’s confidentiality agreement to shield negotiation of a Water Deal from public scrutiny?
     •    Did these secret negotiations – in which Interior hired and paid for the facilitator and in which an Interior official chaired the meetings until legal issues were raised – violate the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA)? Did Interior officials know they were violating FACA? Did Sue Ellen Wooldridge and/or other officials conspire to violate FACA?
     •    Are Interior officials continuing to violate FACA – and to conspire to violate FACA – on the Klamath by organizing and conducting closed-door negotiations over public interest issues and resources?

Let’s hope Secretary Salazar’s ethical review gets this deep not just on the Klamath but throughout the West. It is important that career officials who knowingly and willingly violated ethical and legal standards on behalf of Bush officials are identified and moved out of decision making positions. We need officials in decision making positions who have a commitment to the law and the agency’s mission and who will resist pressure from any political appointee to act unethically or to knowingly break the law.

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