Public Speaker on Public Issues

 

ETHICS

A DIFFICULT CONCEPT FOR SOME BLM EMPLOYEES

On October 2, 2009, the Investigative Report on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) National Landscape Conservation System Advocacy was posted to the internet. At the heart of this investigative report is a look at the ethics or the lack thereof by certain individuals within the Bureau of Land Management.

Fairness demands that the reader not lose sight of the operative words ‘certain individuals’. The BLM, as an agency was not under investigation by the Department of Interior’s Office of the Inspector General. It was the conduct of certain BLM employees.

The report indicates that the investigation was requested by BLM management: On September 5, 2008, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) received a complaint from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Deputy Director Henri Bisson and a Deputy Ethics Counselor. The complaint alleged that managers with the BLM National Landscape

Conservation System (NLCS), particularly Elena Daly, Director of NLCS and Community Programs, and Jeff Jarvis, NLCS Division Chief, were potentially engaged in inappropriate

relationships with advocacy groups and possibly violated anti-lobbying statutes and policies.

You, the reader, and all American citizens, however, have been affected by the outcome of their questionable conduct. This statement is correct because as a consequence of successful lobbying on Capitol Hill the NLCS received congressional recognition which made it a permanent part of the BLM. Prior to this the NLCS had administrative recognition, which meant it could be modified or eliminated at the discretion of the Secretary of Interior.

The NLCS involves 27 million acres, 850 federally recognized areas, monuments, wilderness areas, wilderness study areas, wild and scenic rivers and national and scenic trails.

Advocates of NLCS, which include the National Wildlife Federation, and the Wilderness Society were not comfortable with this changeable status. Working to have it blessed with congressional recognition has pretty much permanently protected it from change or elimination by future changes in management philosophy. Smart move on their part, and not an illegal one.

If that success was achieved ethically, however, is the serious and intrinsic issue at hand. Federal employees are not allowed to lobby to affect proposed legislation. That restriction is spelled out in federal code: 18 U.S.C – 1913. This code is very clear that lobbying involvement by federal employees does not have to be explicit. It also clearly forbids implied lobbying involvement.  

Unfortunately, both types of involvement seem to have surfaced during this investigation. The legal team of the Assistant Inspector General’s office reviewed reams of information to come to the conclusion that the ethical line has been crossed.

They reviewed budget information, cooperative agreements, financial documents of over 25 entities, over 174,000 e-mails and interviews with over 30 department-bureau-and program level officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

The investigation concluded that ethical violations were manifested by these BLM employees with their involvement in:

The findings of this investigation were presented to the Chief, Public Corruption, U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Columbia. He determined that 18 U.S.C. 1913, “Lobbying with Appropriated Monies,” was a violation, but there were no criminal sanctions associated with the violation, and thus, declined to prosecute in lieu of administrative sanctions. The investigative team has forwarded the report to the BLM Director for any administrative action deemed appropriate.

He has 90 days from October 2 to respond to the Office of Inspector General advising them of results of his review of the report and actions taken.

So, now we wait and see where the path in pursuit of an ethical landscape in public land stewardship leads us.

Kathleen Jachowski is a free lance writer and public speaker on natural resources and cultural issues. She also serves as Ex. Dir. For Guardians of the Range. Opinions expressed are here own. E-mail: shoes@jachowskispeaks.com

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