Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, touched all the right points during a recent hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He pledged to open decision making, instill ethical standards and work to regain the Agencies lost respect for scientific integrity. The Senate members agreed and he was confirmed as President Obama’s new Secretary of Interior.
However, years of compromised decision making, rock-bottom ethical standards, and tainted science have created an agency lacking in the governance ability to carry out Senator Salazar’s pledges to Congress and President Obama.
Like all Federal Agencies, it’s tone, processes, and ethics are set by a combination of civil service professionals and political appointees. Interior, for example, has the authority to hire about 318 senior personnel that make up a mix of approximately 50 percent political and 50 percent civil service. These leaders, who are spread across its various bureaus, are constantly subject to pressures from lobbyists and private sector marketeers asking them to direct spending and human resources towards their parochial priorities. How leaders handle these pressures separates those with the public interest in mind from those who take their responsibilities as a license to advance their own personal or idealogical agendas.
Secretary Salazar correctly recognizes the tasks that need to be done to regain the Agencies lost respect. He obviously understands that over the Bush years, Interiors senior leadership have lost the capacity to govern in the publics best interest. What may be less well known is the depth to which the publics interest has been compromised and the time it will take to restore the publics faith in the Agency.
Leadership is at the heart of the capacity to govern in public service. However, this talent does not come from political connections, adherence to a specific ideology or even years of service in a specific area of expertise. As George A. Graham said long ago, “leadership at the highest levels depends upon: (1) ability to recognize needs; (2) inner compulsion to act in the public interest; (3) receptivity to fresh ideas; ability to set challenging and realistic goals in the public interest; and (5) ability to integrate ideas, plans,programs, and operations in a rationally.
The depth of Interiors leadership problems are so extensive that re-gaining the public trust will require a near clean sweep of its political appointees and possibly some civil servants. The reason for such steps are best understood by reviewing the consequences when senior leaders replace leadership with ideology and personal gain. .
The start of the idealogical substitution for public interest goes back to 1981 and the appointment of James G. Watt, President Ronald Reagan’s first interior secretary. Watt’s tenure as Secretary of the Interior was marked by controversy, stemming primarily from his alleged hostility to environmentalism and his support of the development and use of federal lands by foresting, ranching, and other commercial interests. A public controversy erupted after a speech by Watt on September 21, 1983, when he said about his staff: “I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent.”Within weeks of making this statement, Watt submitted his resignation letter.
In a 2001 interview, Watt applauded the Bush administration energy strategy and said their prioritization of oil drilling and coal mining above conservation is just what he recommended in the early 1980s.”Everything Cheney’s saying, everything the president’s saying – they’re saying exactly what we were saying 20 years ago, precisely … Twenty years later, it sounds like they’ve just dusted off the old work.”
Indeed, Bush was carrying out the 1980’s strategy through his 2001 appointment of Gail Norton to head Interior. Norton, who had been an Interior attorney under James Watt, was part of an unsuccessful effort to persuade Congressional Democrats to open Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. At the time of her appointment she was senior counsel at Brownstein, Hyatt & Farber, P.C., a Denver-based law firm. The firm was listed with the U.S. Congress as a lobbyist for NL Industries, formerly known as National Lead Company.
During her tenure, Norton advanced an agenda to rollback regulatory activities, suppress environmental science and collude with the oil industry under the guise of a policy she called “Wise Use,” and Economic Environmentalism. Simply put, she was applying the ideology of Reaganomics to the environment for political and economic gain with questionable public interest value.
As Interior Secretary she quickly moved to change the mission of National Parks from preservation and recreation to “dig and drill.” Her “Wise Use,” Policy was legalized by Republicans, in part, under the oil shale development act of 2005 (109th CONGRESS 1st Session S. 1092). This legislation enabled Interior to lease land on federal lands for oil shale and mineral development.
Norton, had a propensity for putting her anti-regulatory, dig and drill ideology ahead of scientific fact as highlighted by her position on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). For example, during an appearance on friendly Fox News she agreed with host Sean Hannity’s claim that only “about 2,000 acres out of 19 million acres” of the refuge would be affected by drilling. She also agreed with Hannity’s claim that the caribou herd had “quadrupled” at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, despite oil drilling there.” They jointly agreed that the caribou would be similarly unaffected by drilling. However, the most outrageous claim was that the oil gained would be “the equivalent of everything we import from Saudi Arabia” over a 30-year period.
The facts are somewhat different, No one knows for certain how much oil lies beneath ANWR, however, Industry, and U.S. Geological Scientists, estimate that the total is between 5.7 billion barrels and 16 billion barrels. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Energyreported uncertainties about the USGS oil estimates for ANWR and the projected effects on oil price and supplies. ” There is little direct knowledge regarding the petroleum geology of the ANWR region…. ANWR oil production is not projected to have a large impact on world oil prices…. Additional oil production resulting from the opening of ANWR would be only a small portion of total world oil production, and would likely be offset in part by somewhat lower production outside the United States.”
Regardless of the amount available in ANWR, the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil in the rest of the United States is about 120 billion barrels. Therefore, ANWR”s oil isn’t enough to make a dent in the nation’s energy needs or to offset the dangers of drilling in a pristine land.
“We can’t produce our way out of the problems we have,” said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “We have less than 3 percent of the oil reserves in the world, counting what’s in ANWR. We simply can’t do that.” Alaska wildlife refuge’s fate again hangs in the balance
Scientific integrity is absolutely essential in order to gain the acceptance of ideas, implement and integrate plans,and programs, and operate them in rational ways. Unfortunately, as Secretary Salazar recognizes that scientific integrity has been compromised.
Interiors, U.S. Geological Survey is generally known for its quality science. Indeed, its motto is “Your source for science you can use.” However, under the Bush administration and Norton’s direction, science was too often compromised and used to advance political agenda’s. Certainly scientific results have often provoked unfavorable political reactions but the Bush administration and Norton took misuse to a new level.
In order to control scientific findings, and steer them to the “Wise Use-Economic Environmentalism,” ideology, Norton, in July 2006, put in place a series of internal reviews on USGS science. While scientists accept peer-review, the emphasis is on peers not political motivated supervisors, managers and administrators with their every present idealogical motivations.
ANWR again provides some insight into the politics of science. At one time, the USGS estimated that 4 billion to 12 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil was buried in the refuge. They later adjusted the levels from 5.7 billion to 16 billion barrels. Most of it was confined to the northwest corner of the coastal area near the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.
Historically debates over the Prudhoe Bay Oil was immune to political debates until the wildlife issue was introduced into the equation. Wildlife issues are emotionally charged. Nonetheless, the USGS had released a report suggesting that ANWR’s wildlife would be adversely affected by drilling under a number of different development scenarios. Unfortunately, the report contradict testimony by Norton. To squelch the conflict, she immediately ordered the release of a supplementary report. The report, completed in less than a week concluded that limited development would have no adverse impact on caribou.
Fundamentally, no one knows for sure what the impact of oil drilling would have on the 123,000 caribou and their ability to migrate up to 3,000 miles each year in the vastness of North America. Regardless, the amount of oil that could be gained isn’t worth the loss of wilderness.
Re-directing scientific efforts, to support idealogical themes, goes hand-in hand with the establishment of intimidation. Norton was widely know for establishing a climate of intimidation. For example, a survey by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility of Interior’s Fish & Wildlife Service biologists found that more than half of the respondents said agency officials had reversed or withdrawn the biologists’ scientific conclusions under pressure from industry groups. Such pressure would not have been allowed without Norton’s knowledge and tacit approval.
The legacy of intimidation remained in Interior long after Norton resigned in 2006. In December 2007, as a result of a long-term investigation and resignation of former Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald,a Norton appointee, Inspector General Earl Devaney found “abrupt and abrasive, if not abusive” management at the department under Norton’s successor and Bush appointee Dirk Kempthorne’s supervision.
U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, attributed the “untold waste of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars” to MacDonald’s actions. Of the department, Representative Nick J. Rahall II, chairman of the House Natural Resources said “The results of this investigation paint a picture of something akin to a secret society residing within the Interior Department that was colluding to undermine the protection of endangered wildlife and covering for one another’s misdeeds.”
Wildlife issues were simply a by-product of Norton’s anti-regulatory, fossil fuel centric policies. Of similar concern, was Norton’s pay-to-play activities as epitomized by Deputy, J. Steven Griles,. Griles, like most of her political appointments was a lobbyist. His particular venue was coal, and he served on Vice President Dick Cheney’s infamous Energy Task Force.
Upon taking the job of Deputy Secretary, Griles was allowed to receive payments totaling more than $1 million from 2001 to 2005 as part of a buyout by National Environmental Strategies, Inc., (NES) while collecting his $150,000 annual federal salary. This was allowed only under conditions approved by the Office of Government Ethics and the Senate. Griles signed a written agreement stating he would recuse himself from “any particular matter involving specific parties in which any of [his] former clients is or represents a party.”
However, a Freedom of Information Act request in September 2002 turned up evidence that Griles had met with former clients in the fossil fuel industries, despite the agreement. Griles resigned after an 18-month investigation by the Department’s Inspector General concluded that Griles had contact with former NES clients in violation of the agreement, although the report did not accuse Griles of violating any laws or federal ethics rules.
Norton first attempted to clear Griles of wrongdoing, after the Inspector General said that Griles conduct showed that the department’s ethics system was “a train wreck waiting to happen.”
Nonetheless, Griles was finally forced to resign in December of 2004 and was eventually replaced by Lynn Scarlett the former President of the libertarianReason Foundation in Los Angeles, California, and a leading exponent of free-market environmentalism. In 2007, Griles plead guilty to obstruction of justice in the Senate investigation of the Jack Abramoff scandal. He was sentenced to a fine and 10 months imprisonment.
David Hirsch, a director for Friends of the Earth,said of Griles: “he spent four years working for his former clients at the Department of Interior. It didn’t seem to matter how many problems came out, he just kept going. He’s the Energizer Bunny of conflict of interest.”
Abramoff,a conservative Republican, along with Ralph E. Reed, Jr..Grover Norquist and Michael Scanlon lobbied Interior allegedly in behalf of Indian casino gambling interests for an estimated $85 million in fees. Abramoff and Scanlon grossly over billed their clients, secretly splitting the multi-million-dollar profits. In one case, they secretly orchestrated lobbying against their own clients in order to force them to pay for lobbying services.
In addition to collecting fees, Abramoff and his colleagues worked to arranged meetings on casino issues between Indians and Interior Secretary Norton. For those who may not know, The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (Pub.L. 100-497, 25 U.S.C. § 2701 et seq.) gives the Secretary of Interior approval or disapproval authority over compacts governing the conduct of gaming activities on the Indian lands. In essence, the Secretaries decision on compacts greatly influences the potential economic prosperity of those tripes involved in gaming activities.
Within months of Norton’s selection to head Interior, Abramoff’s Indian clients donated $10,000 to Tom DeLay’s (R-TX) personal charity. And in March 2001 they donated $50,000 to the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA). The CREA was founded by Norton and Norquist in 1998.
Norton’s one-time political aid,Italia Federici, served as president of the CREA. During this pay-to-play period Abramoff sent more than $500,000 to Ms. Federici, to gain access to Norton. In June 2007 Ms. Federici agreed to plead guilty to tax evasion and obstruction of Congress as part of the investigation into the Abramoff lobbying activities.
After an intensive investigation, on January 3, 2006, Abramoff pled guilty to three criminal felony counts in a Washington, D.C., federal court related to the defrauding of American Indian tribes and corruption of public officials. Norton, resigned two months later on March 9, 2006 She was replaced shortly thereafter by Republican Kempthorne.
Kempthorne continued the Bush-Norton ideology by moving to auction off 360,000 acres of pristine land near Canyonlands National Park, adjacent to Arches National Park and Dinosaur National Monument to the fossil fuel industry. The auction includes parts of Desolation Canyon, named in 1869 by the explorer John Wesley Powell, which has been proposed for national park status. Nine years ago, the BLM described Desolation Canyon as “a place where a visitor can experience true solitude — where the forces of nature continue to shape the colorful, rugged landscape.”
On 16 December 2008, the Center for Biological Diversity announced their intent to sue Interior for introducing “regulations…that would eviscerate our nation’s most successful wildlife law by exempting thousands of federal activities, including those that generate greenhouse gases, from review under the Endangered Species Act.”
As Secretary of the Interior, Kempthorne did not place any plants or animals on the federal endangered species list since his confirmation on May 26, 2006. As of September 2007, Kempthorne holds the record for protecting fewer species over his tenure than any Interior Secretary in United States history, a record previously held by Watt for over 20 years.
While endangered wildlife remained in disfavor in Interior, oil and relationships with the oil industry received special consideration under the Norton-Kempthrone administrations. According to the Departments Inspector General, the former head of the Denver Royalty-in-Kind office, Gregory W. Smith, used cocaine and had sex with subordinates. The report said Smith also steered government contracts to a consulting business that was employing him part-time.
The report pointed out that between 2002 and 2006, nearly a third of the 55-person staff in the Denver office received gifts and gratuities from oil and gas companies, including Chevron, Shell, Hess Corp. and Denver-based Gary-Williams Energy Corp. One of the employees named in the investigation, Jimmy Mayberry, has pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Washington to violations of conflict-of-interest laws.
However, The Justice Department declined to prosecute Smith and former Associate Director of the Minerals Revenue Management program Lucy Querques Denett, who allegedly manipulated contracts to ensure they were awarded to former Interior employees. Dennett took retirement and Chevron continues to do business as if nothing happened.
The findings were simply the latest sign of trouble at the Minerals Management Service, which had previously been accused of mismanaging the collection of fees from oil companies and writing faulty contracts for drilling on government land and offshore. .
Political appointees are required to submit resignations when the party changes. Secretary Salazar should, of course, immediately accept such resignations. In addition, he should carefully review Senior Executive Service (SES) career appointees who are currently in civil service protected positions to ensure that they remain committed to the public interest over the so called “Wise-Use- Economic Environmentalism political ideology that would, without a doubt, disrupt the new Secretaries promise to Congress and the President.
Yet, in spite of the poor examples, there remains a vast number of responsible, ethical and committed civil service employees, who will come forward to help Secretary Salazar re-organize, re-structure, and lead the Agencies efforts in behalf of the public interest.
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