While addressing a crowd of Idaho politicians, officials and business and environmental leaders at the Idaho Environmental Forum this afternoon, Stephen Allred, the former Idaho Department of Environmental Quality director tapped by Department of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to head up the Land, Minerals and Management Bureau said that decisions in Washington are not subject to political pressures.
"I've been totally surprised by the lack of political impacts that people have on department operations," Allred said during the forum. "Now that doesn't mean they don't try, let me tell you."
But earlier Wednesday, a New York Times story
described a wide-ranging ethics scandal within the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, now under Allred's direct supervision, that includes blatant political favors, self-enrichment, drug use and sexual misconduct. The story, which details a series of three Office of Inspector General reports
) suggests a "culture of ethical failure" within the agency.
The Minerals Management Service is the agency tasked with collecting $10 billion in royalties, mostly for oil and gas extraction. According to the Times, it's one of the federal government's largest sources of revenue.
The allegations predate Allred's tenure at the agency, and he said that the agency itself initiated the investigations.
"Mineral Management Services found or suspected it, asked them to investigate and now the reports are coming out," Allred told citydesk. "What frustrates me is that it took almost two years to get this out."
Allred said that the people implicated in the scandal were isolated as soon as allegations were made and that he leaned on the Inspector General for the past six to eight months to release the report so that the Mineral Service could address the allegations.
The Inspector General spent two years and $5.3 million on the investigation and interviewed 233 witnesses. Chevron refused to cooperate with the investigation, further delaying the final report.
The IEF forum Wednesday featured Allred, Michael Bogert, Kempthorne's longtime attorney who is a key player in a major rewrite of Endangered Species Act regulations now underway, and Jim Caswell, director of the Bureau of Land Management and former head of Idaho's Office of Species Conservation. All three indicated that their jobs are very difficult and will be over come January and a new administration in Washington.
Allred, who met with President George Bush on Tuesday, praised Bush for often being better briefed than his briefers and very interested in energy development, administration of public lands and the fish and wildlife issues at the nexus of the two.
Allred said Bush asked: "What are we doing to make sure we're not impacting wildlife?"
Bogert said Bush has not gotten enough credit for expanding wetlands, boosting National Parks and a bird initiative.
"I am outraged by the immoral behavior, illegal activities, and appalling misconduct of several former and current long-serving career employees in the Minerals Management Service's Royalty in Kind program ... These individuals have eroded the trust the American citizens deserve to have in their public servants."