Tuesday, December 16, 2008

OIG Report Chronicles ESA Conflict Between Science & Policy

Dec 15: The U.S. Department of Interior, Office of Inspector General (OIG) has released a 141-page report entitled, Investigative Report: The Endangered Species Act and the Conflict between Science and Policy. According to the cover letter transmitting the report to Secretary Kempthorne, "This investigation was initiated by request of Senator Ron Wyden who believed that 18 ESA decisions may have been improperly affected by MacDonald [Former Fish, Wildlife and Parks Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald]. Our investigation was expanded by requests from Chairman Nick J. Rahall, II, House Committee on Natural Resources, and Congressmen Jay Inslee and Peter DeFazio, who requested that we add two other decisions to those under our review.

"As you know, in previous investigations we determined that MacDonald injected herself personally and profoundly in a number of ESA issues. We determined that MacDonald's management style was abrupt and abrasive, if not abusive, and that her conduct demoralized and frustrated her staff as well as her subordinate managers. Our findings from this investigation are much the same, although we found that the nature and extent of MacDonald's influence varied dramatically from one decision to another. For example, in one instance we found that MacDonald went to extraordinary efforts to influence a particular decision, but her efforts ultimately had no effect on the outcome. In other instances, her involvement clearly caused a particular result. Ironically, in several instances, she played no role in the decision-making process, but because of her reputation, FW personnel believed that she had, in fact, been exerting influence, as did members of Congress and the public. . ."

The OIG indicates that, "Recognizing that this comes late in your tenure as Secretary of the Interior, we are providing this report to you for whatever action you deem appropriate; however, it is also my intention to thoroughly brief and refer this report to your successor." That successor, Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, is expected to be officially nominated as Secretary of the Department of Interior by President-elect Obama later this week.

Senator Wyden (D-OR), who chairs the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, the primary requestor of the report, issued a release saying, “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. “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.”

Wyden continued, "Why my office needed to request an Inspector General’s investigation to get this information is beyond me; but as usual, General Devaney’s [the OIG] work is not only beyond reproach, it gives Congress what is needed to take action. 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.”

Commenting on the report, Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director for the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said, “Political interference by MacDonald and other Bush administration officials threatens the survival of numerous species like bull trout, marbled murrelet and the southwestern bald eagle.” CBD said, the report found that MacDonald “frequently contested the scientific findings of FWS (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) biologists and often replaced their scientific conclusions with her own, even though she was not a biologist.”

CBD indicated that the report also found that MacDonald “acted as an economist in her efforts to restrict critical habitat designations,” even though she lacked such training. Greenwald said, "MacDonald’s reign of terror at the Department of Interior will have a lasting negative impact on endangered species, but she was not alone in this effort. MacDonald was the administration’s attack dog, not its general. The contempt for science and law that she came to symbolize goes much deeper than a single Department of Interior employee.”

Access the cover letter and report from DOI's OIG (click here). Access a release from Senator Wyden (click here). Access a release from CBD (click here). Access a release from Defenders of Wildlife (click here). [*Wildlife]