Department of Interior (DOI); the zero accountability factor
The Offices of Inspector General (OIG) throughout the federal government serve as independent watchdogs of federal agencies. The Department of Interior has an Inspector General, the DOI OIG. The OIG helps to prevent, and hold people accountable, to inefficient or illegal use of government funding, unethical conduct within the federal government and other infractions of law. President Trump has 13 Inspector General positions remaining vacant. This President is very slow to fill IG positions at agencies where questionable ethical activity has already occurred and his agenda of "deregulation," critical to his policy agenda, is running full steam.
In addition to the lack of IG seats remaining vacant, the funding to investigate all of the infractions reported is simply not there.
“Funding and staffing shortfalls resulting from flat funding or small cuts have caused the Office of Inspector General in recent months to forgo investigations altogether. Investigation requests from Congress and from tips originating within the Department of the Interior have either been rejected or are awaiting resources to be freed up in order to address them,” said Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) on the floor of the House in debate over funding.
The DOI Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel have already opened 11 investigations of Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s actions, yet the 115th Congress has failed to hold a single hearing on possible ethical lapses by political appointees in Trump’s Interior Department.
The 11 active investigations referenced above do not include those turned over to land management agencies for internal revue, often putting those under investigation in charge of investigating themselves.
Other members of Zinke's DOI have also been placed as the hub of an investigation. An investigation into intimidation of employees, waste of tax payer funding, etc had John Ruhs (former NV BLM State lead) as a central figure. Ruhs was promoted to acting Deputy and handed the OIG investigation for internal review. Ruhs was later demoted to running fire in Idaho causing a stir in the camp of Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV). At this time it is not clear if he was transferred to Idaho to keep him out of the limelight or as a consequence. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests have been denied as FOIA offices face incredible new memorandums on what can, and can not, be released to the public.
The Center for American Progress has created an extraordinary report, "The Favor Factory," that focuses on the depth and breadth of the breaches in current oversight of an administration that is doing all it can to skirt accountability with many violations, some flagrant, of common ethical responsibility.
Since his tenure at Interior began, Zinke has been subject to 14 separate investigations into his conduct alone, including those within the Office of Special Counsel, the House Oversight Committee, the Government Accountability Office, as well as OIG. This is not normal. This is not "politics, as usual."
As wild horse advocates this is really important to understand. The wild horse is the only animal legally defined by the land it stands, not what it is biologically. The land it stands is public lands. Protections for our wild horses came with federal jurisdiction. Prior to federal jurisdiction is when they were hunted down through "mustanging," a free for all killing horses for fertilizer, chicken feed and dog food. Wild horses were a fast cash crop. States still do not protect free roaming horses from slaughter and often use a "capture and sell" method for any management. Maintaining a system of federal management is what "Wild Horse Annie," Velma Johnston, devoted her life's work to achieving.
Public land management must have mechanisms for accountability. Those mechanisms have always been subject to corruption and intimidation, now those mechanisms themselves are under assault. Instead of any progress to "drain the swamp," the swamp is now in charge and drowning out any avenue to stop it.
A simplistic example of how Zinke runs his DOI lies in agency leadership positions.
At midterm there is still no BLM Director and the position has been wiped off the BLM website. The Deputy Director position was not appointed by the president, the deputy positions were filled by Ryan Zinke. Currently Brian Steed (R-Ut) sits as the Deputy Director of BLM. Steed is the former Chief of Staff of Chris Stewart (R-UT). Stewart was the author of the amendment that would kill tens of thousands of wild horses and the one pushing the amendment to forward the surgical, experimental, procedures on wild horses. The surgical procedure is part of an agenda forwarded by pro-slaughter factions that worked with Ryan Zinke when he was a Congressman in Montana.
The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 is a United States law that requires the executive branch departments and agencies to report to Congress and Government Accountability Office (GAO) information about the temporary filling of vacant executive agency positions that require presidential appointment with Senate confirmation. This is simply not happening.
The BLM website identifies Mr. Steed, under the heading of deputy, as the official “exercising authority of the director.” Steed was given his position by Zinke, not the President. The authority of the Director (a position missing from the website) was placed into an acting/or not acting (even his designation is not clear) by someone violating ethical, legal, responsibility.
These temporary positions, and positions that have a power greater than intended, blatantly violate the law. These questionable positions extend into National Parks, Fish and Wildlife and the BLM. Essentially every action discussed, planned, approved in land management agencies violates this essential process of legal leadership.
It is legally arguable that almost every plan or action created within each land management agency, and approved through this "leadership" during these time periods, is invalid. A broad case that addresses these appointments within the DOI was brought by PEER earlier this year. WHE is watching the case and included this concept in our challenge to BLM spaying wild horses (and it's connection to Brian Steed's former boss and political agenda, not sound judgement).
We don't just need to simply "Stop the roundups." we need to shut down Zinke's personal playground, the DOI. This is not how public land management is intended to operate. This is chaos rule intended to destabilize from within. When you add that fact that oversight is deficient, underfunded and selective, there is no venue for the public to hold public land managers accountable but the courts.
"They mean well but do not understand" is another illusory truth perpetuated by decades of lies and solidified in a meme. Advocacy does understand, we understand far too well. There is a lot of money to be made in the exploitation of public lands. Removing regulations, personnel and oversight simply facilitate rapid exploitation without consequence or responsibility to the public.
There are several hearings that must make it into the House and Senate. These hearings are currently being stonewalled by the leadership of House and Senate that have ingrained ties to Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chris Stewart (R-UT), Mark Amodei (R-NV) and Ryan Zinke.
The most important thing you can do to help bring these hearings to the floor is vote. If leadership of the committees does not change hands the stonewall intent on hiding this corruption will hold.
We are doing our part, addressing available oversight and crafting litigation. We need you to do yours. Please vote at midterm.
There are many tools that can be used to manage our western landscapes and our wild horses. One tool is temporary fertility control or PZP. None of these tools will bring long term success unless they are founded on a valid and honest equation of range data. That data will require, in order to preserve wild horses and the habitat they need to survive, that we address issues that impact that habitat, livestock and mining. The large equation for sustained management can only be built on honest dialogue in a sound system.
Accountability has quickly moved to zero. Help us fight back.
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