April 15, 2019

Wyden, Hirono Welcome Interior IG Decision to Open Investigation Regarding Bernhardt

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, today welcomed the decision of the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of the Interior (Interior IG) to open an investigation regarding allegations against Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. The decision follows separate requests by Wyden and Hirono asking the Interior IG to investigate allegations that Bernhardt inappropriately blocked a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) assessment of the effect of toxic pesticides on several endangered species.

Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall confirmed in a letter today that her Office has received seven complaints, including Wyden’s and Hirono’s, “from a wide assortment of complainants alleging various potential conflict of interest and other violations” by Bernhardt and is “continuing to gather pertinent information about the complaints and have opened an investigation to address them.”

“This is exactly why I wanted a delay in Bernhardt’s consideration. We now have an Interior Secretary who has been on the job for one full business day and is already under investigation,” Wyden said. “With Bernhardt’s track record and the number of allegations against him, it’s no surprise. At least now, the American people will finally get the answers they deserve.”

“David Bernhardt should have neither been nominated nor confirmed to serve as Secretary of the Interior. Like with so many of his colleagues in Donald Trump’s cabinet, Secretary Bernhardt has extensive conflicts of interests and is hostile to the mission of the Department he leads,” Hirono said. “I am concerned that the Secretary put his own interests, and those of his clients in the oil and gas industry, above the Department’s own career scientists. This new investigation by the Deputy Inspector General will get to the bottom of what happened so that we can hold the Secretary accountable.”

Wyden questioned Bernhardt directly about his role in blocking the USFWS analysis when Bernhardt appeared before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee on March 28, 2019 for his confirmation hearing to become Secretary of the Department of the Interior. Following concerns that Bernhardt potentially made misleading or false statements during that hearing about his role, Wyden sent a letter on March 29, 2019 to the Acting Inspector General requesting an investigation.

Hirono also called into question the actions taken by Bernhardt to suppress scientific data with regards to the USFWS report. She led Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in sending the Acting Inspector General a request for investigation into the allegations, as well.