In May of 2007, Julie MacDonald, deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks at the Interior Department, abruptly resigned just one week before Congress was to examine her political interference in endangered species decisions. MacDonald had a long history of rejecting scientists’ recommendations to politicize the Interior Department:
– MacDonald presented industry positions as equivalent to scientific studies, denigrating scientific studies as mere “opinion,” and saying, “We should treat [them] as we would treat an industry publication.”
– MacDonald pressed staff biologists to more seriously consider industry positions, especially when industry pushed for less regulation of a given species.
– Under MacDonald, the Interior Department reversed a staff ruling on an endangered species of tree after the Air Force complained.
Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the politicization of the Interior Department stretches beyond Julie MacDonald. Robin Nazzaro, a GAO investigator, told the House today that four other officials “may have put political pressure on lower-ranking employees who were deciding endangered species cases”:
The officials named by Nazzaro are Craig Manson, a former assistant Interior secretary; Brian Waidmann, chief of staff to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne; Todd Willens, a former deputy assistant Interior secretary: and Randal Bowman, a special assistant in the Interior secretary’s office.
All four acted in ways that could be seen as interfering in decisions on treatment of endangered species, Nazzaro said.
Last November, the Fish and Wildlife Service “reversed seven rulings that denied endangered species increased protection, after an investigation found the actions were tainted by political pressure from” MacDonald. But Nazzaro said that that investigation had been too narrow, as it focused only on MacDonald.
Chairing today’s hearing, Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) said that after MacDonald’s resignation, the agency “merely swept it under a rug.” He called the Service’s review “a boondoggle” that was “fixing nothing.” “It was too narrow, too fast, and too sloppy.”