Interior design at the Interior Department


When U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado takes office later this month as Secretary of the Department of Interior, he'll have one plush "executive washroom."

According to the Washington Post, outgoing Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne recently spent $235,000 of our tax money on a new bathroom for the fifth-floor office.

The renovation included a new shower, monogrammed towels, paneling, tiles, and a refrigerator and freezer. It was all kosher, according to the department's inspector general, because the project had been approved by the General Services Administration, which manages most federal facilities.

Salazar has yet to be confirmed, so he's still in the senate for a little while. His replacement has been named by Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter.

Ritter's choice, Denver School Superintendent Michael Bennet, surprised just about everybody.

Bennet is barely known outside Denver. Before getting elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Salazar had served as the state's Director of Natural Resources before winning statewide office as attorney general (a position also held by Coloradan Gale Norton, who was George W. Bush's interior secretary from 2001 to 2006).

Although he's never run for office, Bennet has considerable experience in public life. Before going to Denver Public Schools, he was chief of staff for Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. He worked in the Justice Department and the State Department during the Clinton administration, and was once an aide to the governor of Ohio.

But he appears to have little or no background in public lands, energy development, tribal relationships, water management, and similar issues that are important to Coloradans and other Westerners. Bennet does plan to run for a senate term of his own in 2010, which will require him to visit the backwaters of Colorado and address such topics, so he could well get up to speed -- by all accounts, he's a quick study.

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