The Department of Interior and its current Secretary, Sally Jewell, is in charge of more than 71,000 employees with a budget in excess of 90 billion dollars and one of its divisions, the Bureau of Land Management, the BLM, oversees more than 500 million acres of public land, which is about one-fifth the land area of the United States and this department is and has always been, awash in scandal.
Established on March 3, 1849, by the Department of the Interior Act, the Department of Interior became the fourth cabinet in the federal government. It didn’t take long before the first scandal struck this Cabinet.
In 1873, a year after Yellowstone National Park was established, Secretary of Interior Columbus Delano made the following remarks:
“The civilization of the Indian is impossible while the buffalo remains upon the plains. I would not seriously regret the total disappearance of the buffalo from our western prairies, in its effect upon the Indians, regarding it as a means of hastening their sense of dependence upon the products of the soil and their own labors.”
Delano’s attitude was shared by most Americans around this time as people began to move westward. As Delano stated, the buffalo and the wild horse were viewed as a means of perpetuating Native Americans way of life. General Phil Sheridan made clear his strategy in dealing with the Indians when he said the way to defeat the enemy is to destroy their commissary and destroy their means of transportation and our government did. In the mid to late 1800’s millions upon millions of buffalo and wild horses were killed by, or with the blessing, of the federal government.
Two years later, in 1875, Delano’s department was in serious disrepair due to his corruption and incompetence. He paid money to fictitious clerks while other clerks had been paid without performing any services. He was convicted of taking bribes for fraudulent land grants and was forced to resign from office. Delano had also given lucrative cartographical contracts to his son John Delano.
Then there was the infamous Teapot Dome bribery scandal of 1922. The Teapot Dome is a federal oil reserve in Wyoming. Investigations revealed that Interior Secretary Albert Fall had secretly leased the Teapot Dome reserve and California’s Elk Hills reserve to oil executives and received a $409,000 payoff in return. Fall was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison. Wow, a whole year.
In 1971, Congress passes the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, intended to protect America’s living legends, the mustang horse and its cousin, the burro. Ironically, they put the BLM, a division of the same department, the Department of Interior, that originally tried to eradicate these animals and who has been under the thumb of the special interest group, the Cattlemen’s Association, since its inception, in charge of executing this act. Needless to say, this has been a disaster.
Then in 1973 Congress passes the Endangered Species Act, which expands federal power over private lands. The law’s basic approach is to put most of the cost of endangered species recovery onto the owners of the land the animals happen to live on. As such, it creates perverse incentives for landowners to destroy wildlife on their lands before the government effectively expropriates it.The law was administered by Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service.
Then we have former Department of Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, accused of doing nothing about the Bureau of Land Management’s mismanagement of wild horses. The BLM allowed a notorious livestock hauler named Tom Davis, acquire nearly 1,800 wild horses and burros over a four-year period. Davis claimed he sold about 1700 to a rescue in the southeast. When the Denver Post was doing their expose on this, they called our organization to see if we had them or knew of anyone in our area who could have taken this many horses. There is nobody and if 1800 wild horses were introduced into the southeast, we would have known about it because, at the time, we were one of only two mustang rescues in the entire southeast. Livestock hauler Tom Davis is accused of handing them over to kill buyers who sent them to Mexico to slaughter for human consumption and in the process was breaking numerous Colorado state and federal laws. According to the IG report, the hauler, Tom Davis, allegedly “had farming and trucking connections” with Salazar. The Office of the Inspector General report notes that Davis began gathering horses from the BLM after Salazar took office as Interior Secretary (the BLM program is part of the Department of the Interior and therefore was under Salazar’s control).
Making matters even worse for the Department of Interior in the year 2006 as word of scandals at the Department of Interior’s Denver office surface, the department’s Inspector General, Earl Devaney, declared that it suffers from “a culture of managerial irresponsibility,” including cronyism and widespread ethical failures. Devaney charged that “short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of Interior.” Well, it sure appears that even crime is more than a possibility with these people.
At the Interior’s Minerals Management Service in Denver, various conflicts of interest were cited. The Interior’s Inspector General reported that MMS employees had close relationships with, and had received gifts, including sex for hire (crime), from, employees of the energy firms they were supposed to be regulating.
The former head of the Denver Royalty-in-Kind office, Gregory W. Smith, used illegal drugs (crime) and had sex with subordinates. The report said Smith also steered government contracts to a consulting business that was employing him part-time.
Recently, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the former director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management “stood to benefit personally” in 2012 when he tried to fast-track the sale of federal land in Henderson, Nevada, to a stadium developer, according to a government investigation report.
The joint investigation by the FBI and the Office of the Inspector General showed then-BLM director Bob Abbey was “personally and substantially involved” in the review process for the land sale, despite his connections to the transaction.
The deal was being pushed by former BLM employee Mike Ford, Abbey’s friend and onetime partner in a private consulting firm where Abbey worked both before and after his three-year stint as head of the federal agency. The firm stood to receive a $528,000 “success fee” after the land sale went through.
Ford was working as a consultant for the City of Henderson and controversial Texas developer Chris Milam, who was floating plans for a $650 million professional sports arena that would never be built.
When Abbey was nominated by President Obama to head the BLM, he signed what’s known as a “recusal form” stating that he had resigned his position as a private consultant but “expected to rejoin the firm as a member” after his government service. In the same form, he pledged not to “participate personally and substantially in any particular matter that had a direct and predictable effect on the financial interests of the firm.”
Investigators said Abbey’s relationship with Ford, gave the consultant unusual access to the BLM and its staff during the review process for the land sale, and at the prompting of both Ford and Abbey, key documents were processed far faster than usual.
Abbey retired as BLM director on May 31, 2012, and now he is listed as a partner in the firm Abbey Stubbs & Ford. Now isn’t that convenient?
The report says he told investigators he never received any payment from the consulting firm or anyone else as a result of the land sale in Henderson. I suppose because he is a public official we should believe him?
This goes to show you that, with these government officials, the recusal forms they sign aren’t worth the paper they are written on.
It makes one wonder if there is any sort of corruption and self-serving activity that is too debased for these government officials become involved in next. I personally doubt it.