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Time to Appoint an Effective Inspector General at Interior
Devaney Shielded Politicos by Targeting Small Fish, Letting Big Ones off the Hook
WASHINGTON - December 7 - The reputation of Earl Devaney as a tough Inspector General at the Department of Interior is not supported by a close look at his record, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). With his retirement this month, President Obama has the opportunity to pick a brisk new broom for sweeping out a deeply corrupted and dysfunctional agency.
Perhaps Devaney’s most memorable moment as Inspector General (IG) came in a September 2006 hearing where he stated “Simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior.” He first made that statement six months after Gale Norton had resigned as Secretary but –
- While she was there, Devaney repeatedly praised her leadership. For example, in one 2004 report on dismal employee survey results, Devaney cited a pervasive “culture of fear" where "hatchet people" mete out punishment based on politics yet he publicly assured Norton that “findings in this report pre-dated your tenure as Secretary” although Norton had been Secretary for more than 3 ½ years;
- The pattern of his IG reports has been to attack lower or mid-level personnel but let top political appointees go unidentified. Thus, a report on a scheme to inflate more than a dozen-fold the value of Big Cypress oil holdings by the Collier family did not identify which Bush appointee consummated the deal. Another report on high-level string-pulling for a politically connected Wyoming rancher failed to say who was pulling the strings. And a report on a BLM land exchange that could have cost taxpayers more than $200 million failed to find who cut the deal;
- The hardest hitting reports focused on the trivial while obscuring the profound issues. One of the most highly publicized reports concerned *CensureBlock* and drug parties between Minerals Management Service employees in the Royalty-In Kind program and oil company lobbyists. The report did not even try to determine if taxpayers were being ripped off; nor did the IG take a stance on the merits of the program (since discontinued) which made MMS a business partner of oil companies.
“Earl Devaney functioned more as a Deflector General to protect appointees and to keep hard questions from being answered,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization opposed his confirmation back in 1999 based upon his retaliation against whistleblowers at his previous posting. “Interior needs an Inspector General who will be a fearless watch dog rather than a show dog.”
In the months since he has been away as the fraud overseer on stimulus funds, Acting IG Mary Kendall, a long-time Devaney aide, has continued the same pattern of erratic oversight, including:
- Referring detailed charges of illegal orders by the Director of National Park Service back to the Park Service to investigate itself;
- Deep-sixing its own reports for political reasons and waging long battles to withhold documents from responses to the Freedom of Information Act. Under Kendall, the IG has paid PEER thousands of tax dollars in recovered fees and costs for successful FOIA suits, including one check from the IG which bounced and had to be replaced; and
- Pursuing a ham-handed, baffling, nearly two-year probe of Arctic scientists’ 2004 sightings of drowned polar bears in open water following a storm.
“Interior continues to lurch from debacle to debacle in part because the work of the Inspector General generates heat but sheds little light,” Ruch added, noting that, among other failings, the IG Whistleblower Protection unit routinely abandons whistleblowers and offers no assistance to employees trying to solve problems at early stages. “Interior’s Office of Inspector General desperately needs new leadership.”