Decisions in Washington are not subject to political pressures.
So said 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.
"I've been totally surprised by the lack of political impacts that people have on department operations," Allred told a crowd of politicians and business and environmental leaders at the Idaho Environmental Forum on Sept. 10. "Now that doesn't mean they don't try, let me tell you."
Earlier that same day, the Interior Department's inspector general released three investigation reports that describe a wide-ranging ethics scandal within the department's Minerals Management Service, now under Allred's direct supervision. The investigation found blatant political favors, self-enrichment, rampant drug use and sexual misconduct. The reports suggest a "culture of ethical failure" within the agency and describe a party atmosphere between government workers and the large oil and gas companies they regulate.
The Minerals Management Service is the agency tasked with collecting $10 billion in royalties, mostly for oil and gas extraction.
The allegations predate Allred's and Kempthorne's tenure at the agency, and Allred told BW after his Boise talk 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 said. "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.
Kempthorne also expressed outrage.
But the participants in the forum—Allred, Kempthorne attorney Michael Bogert and Bureau of Land Management director Jim Caswell—failed to mention the scandal during the luncheon, and no one in the crowd asked about the breaking story.
Instead, the three former Idahoans who are now highly ranked under Kempthorne's waning federal posting, regaled the crowd with tales from D.C., defended the Bush administration's scant environmental record and talked about how hard they work.
"These are powerful positions," Allred told the nonpartisan forum. "You can say something and you can shake the markets."
All three agreed their jobs will end come January when a new administration comes to Washington.
Allred met with President George Bush the day before his Boise appearance. He said Bush asked the oil and gas officials present: "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.