Corruption and incompetence reported at Interior Department

Top Department of Interior watchdog, Inspector General Earl E. Devaney, testified last week before a House subcommittee that Interior was corrupt and incompetent.

"Simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior, Devaney told the House Government Reform subcommittee on energy and resources.

"I have observed one instance after another when the good work of my office has been disregarded by the department," he continued. "Ethics failures on the part of senior department officials -- taking the form of appearances of impropriety, favoritism and bias -- have been routinely dismissed with a promise 'not to do it again.' ''

Devaney reported that through bureaucratic neglect, incompetence or "stovepiping," billions in royalties owned the federal government have been lost on deep ocean oil wells. When department officials discovered the error in the contracts, they tried to cover it up, Devaney told the subcommittee.

These charges ought to concern the San Joaquin Valley because Interior controls the Bureau of Relamation, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Minerals Mangement Service, US Geological Survey, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. These agencies have major responsibilities in the Valley on issues as diverse as last week's Friant Dam settlement agreement, enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, Yosemite National Park, oil and gas leases, geological mapping and Indian casinos.

Officials at Interior are under relentless pressure from chairman of the House Resources Committee, Rep. RichPAC Pombo, Whale Slayer-Tracy, other members of his committee like Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Polar Bear Slayer-Merced, their contributors and other special interests. The public has witnessed examples of Interior officials giving in to that pressure. However, Devaney said his office was under constant pressure from congressmen and senators, special interests and Interior officials, yet he managed to do his job at least in this report. Yet, without an investigative article by the New York Times in March, he might not have had the political support to do it.

"I have unfortunately watched a number of high-level Interior officials leave the department under the cloud of OIG investigations," Devaney said, referring to the Office of Inspector General. "Absent criminal charges, however, they are sent off in the usual fashion, with a party paying tribute to their good service and the secretary wishing them well, to spend more time with their family or seek new opportunities."

The Times reported Sunday:

Three years ago, Devaney scathingly criticized the Interior Department's auditing program for oil and gas royalties. Beyond finding that investigators had missed millions of dollars in underpayments, his office uncovered evidence that agency auditors had lost key files and then tried to fool investigators by forging and backdating the missing documents. In an acid rebuke of the agency, Devaney noted that the agency gave a bonus to the official who came up with the false papers.

We hope the government reform committee might oversee Interior and members of the resources committee who require constant watching.



September 13, 2006: Chairman Issa: Interior Cover-up Prevented Price Threshold Omission from Being Fixed

Interior Dept. blasted for ethics breaches
Agency officials accused of ignoring cover-ups, cronyism
- Edmund L. Andrews, New York Times
Thursday, September 14, 2006