December 15, 2008

Wyden-Requested IG Report on Interior Corruption Uncovers "Contempt for the Public Trust" and "Untold Waste"

Senator praises Devaney's investigation into political interference in ESA decisions.

Washington, D.C. - "Significant harm to the integrity of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the morale and reputation of the Fish and Wildlife Service as well as potential harm to individual species," and the "untold waste of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars" are just some of the consequences of what the Interior Department's Inspector General Earl Devaney terms one former Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald's "zeal to advance her agenda." General Devaney released these findings in a 141 page report detailing his office's year-long investigation, initiated at the request of U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) who believed that 18 ESA decisions may have been tainted by Ms. MacDonald. The full text of the Inspector General's report is available at:

"This report makes it crystal clear how one person's contempt for the public trust can infect an entire agency. Ms. MacDonald's narrow focus on her own agenda not only endangered the Endangered Species Act, it opened the door for countless land-use decisions and developments that would have never otherwise been considered," said Wyden. "While I look forward to working with a new Administration with a much greater respect for the law, Congress needs to take immediate steps to make sure that Julie MacDonald's legacy can never be repeated."

Today's report details how Julie MacDonald, with the support and assistance of several of her colleagues caused considerable harm to the integrity of the ESA program and a number of ESA decisions made during the Bush Administration. Fifteen of the twenty reviewed decisions were found to have been potentially jeopardized by MacDonald or other Department of Interior employees. It was also found that MacDonald's influence was felt even when she was not directly involved as her reputation alone created a culture that undermined agency actions, intimidating agency employees and scientists. The Inspector General found that MacDonald's influence was so prevalent as to become a verb among agency employees that feared "getting MacDonalded."

The IG writes: "In the end, the cloud of MacDonald's overreaching, and the actions of those who enabled and assisted her, have caused the unnecessary expenditure of hundreds of thousands of dollars to re-issue decisions and litigation costs to defend decisions that, in at least two instances, the courts found to be arbitrary and capricious." Today's findings affirm that even further correction is required to rectify agency actions. The IG also notes that the actions of MacDonald and her colleagues, was made possible by the lack of a clear and established policies that were easily exploited. Where policies did exist, they appeared to change from listing decision to listing decision, causing one employee to remark that each morning he'd awake and wonder "Okay, what's the agency doing today?"

"Why my office needed to request an Inspector General's investigation to get this information is beyond me; but as usual, General Devaney's work is not only beyond reproach, it gives Congress what is needed to take action," said Wyden. "I believe that General Devaney's exemplary service during what is unquestionably one of the darkest periods in the Interior Department's history more than merits his being kept on in the Obama Administration to continue prosecuting the case."

Wyden, who chairs the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, requested the investigation after repeated efforts to get Secretary Kempthorne and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand its review of ESA decisions went unheeded. Wyden first raised this issue on April 30, 2007 after the Inspector General's initial report uncovered a series of ethical lapses by Julie MacDonald. Ms. MacDonald resigned after Wyden announced that he would publically hold the administration's nominee to be the Department of Interior's Assistant Secretary for Fish Wildlife and Parks until the Department fully addressed the ethical concerns raised in the report. Senator Wyden requested that the Agency review sixteen decisions in which Julie MacDonald played a critical role. The Fish and Wildlife Service declined to review thirteen endangered species decisions from his original request which led him to appeal to the Inspector General for further investigation.