Report: Political Interference Tainted Most Endangered Species Rulings for 5 Years
WASHINGTON - A high-ranking Interior Department official tainted nearly every decision made on the protection of endangered species over five years, a new inspector general report finds, concluding she exerted improper political interference on many more rulings than previously thought.
Julie MacDonald, a former deputy assistant secretary overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service, did pervasive harm to the department's morale and integrity and may have risked the well-being of species with her agenda, Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney said in his report out Monday.
The Interior Department last year reversed seven rulings that denied endangered species increased protection, after an investigation found that MacDonald had applied political pressure in those cases. The new report looked at nearly two dozen other endangered species decisions not examined in the earlier report. It found MacDonald directly interfered with at least 13 decisions and indirectly affected at least two more.
MacDonald, a civil engineer with no formal training in natural sciences, resigned in May 2007. Department employees reported that they used her name as a verb - encountering political interference from senior managers was called "getting MacDonalded."
Devaney said "MacDonald's zeal to advance her agenda has caused considerable harm to the integrity of the ESA program and to the morale and reputation" of the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as potential harm to animals under the Endangered Species Act.
"Her heavy-handedness has cast doubt on nearly every ESA decision issued during her tenure," from 2002 until 2007, the report said. MacDonald was deputy assistant secretary from 2004 to 2007 and a senior adviser in the department for two years before that.
MacDonald did not return telephone messages left for her in Washington and California on Monday. In a letter to Devaney refusing to be interviewed for his second report, she said that he showed "breathtaking arrogance" in conducting his previous investigation.
She resigned weeks after the report by Devaney last year found that she broke federal rules and should face punishment for leaking information about endangered species to private groups. That report also said MacDonald censored science and mistreated staff.
The new investigation reaffirmed those findings and said MacDonald's influence was even more far-reaching. It also faulted her boss, former Assistant Secretary Craig Manson, as well as several other high-ranking Interior officials, including Randal Bowman, a special assistant to Manson, and Thomas Graf, a department lawyer.
Manson, who left office in 2005, told The Associated Press in the spring that he took an active role in the endangered species program and his actions were "perfectly proper."
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who requested the investigation, said Devaney "makes it crystal clear how one person's contempt for the public trust can infect an entire agency."
Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., said the findings "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."
Interior Department spokesman Shane Wolfe said officials had just received the 147-page report late Monday and were reviewing it.