Report: Department of Interior employees collaborate with lobbyists

Looks like the Department of Interior has a problem with a section responsible for 26 million acres of federal lands. According to an investigation conducted by the Interior inspector general regarding the department's National Landscape Conservation System (NCLS), employees and environmental advocacy organizations frequently violated federal anti-lobbying policies.

A redacted report from the investigation includes this zinger:
 

Our investigation determined that numerous activities and communication took place between NLCS officials and nongovernmental organizations (NGO), including discussions about the NLCS budget and BLM employees' editing brochures and producing fact sheets for a specific NGO. Our investigative efforts revealed that communication between NLCS and certain NGOs in these circumstances gave the appearance of federal employees being less than objective and created the potential for conflicts of interest or violations of law. We also uncovered a general disregard for establishing and maintaining boundaries among the various entities.

In fact, in one instance, Jeff Jarvis, who is an employee of the Bureau of Land Management, requested that a representative of the National Wildlife Federation change legislation affecting NCLS. As the inspector reports, “this was potentially problematic because BLM employees were prohibited from influencing the legislation.”

Maybe no one told this to Jarvis:

On November 28, 2007, Jeff Jarvis e-mailed a legislative representative for the NWF, a nonprofit based in Reston, VA, stating: “I am in Northern New Mexico. We are looking at some protected archaeological sites protected by law in Galisteo. The managers and staff want to be added to NLCS. I don’t want to complicate anything, but what would it take to add a few small areas to the legislation?” On December 5, 2007, the NWF legislative representative e-mailed Jarvis asking him to contact her “off line” concerning the Galisteo Basin.

We interviewed the NWF legislative representative who worked for BLM as the special assistant to the Director for five years. In 2006, she started working at NWF as the legislative representative, she said, and she was responsible for advocating for public lands policy and wildlife. She said her work included NLCS, mining reform, oil and gas reform, wildlife habitat, and oil shale issues. She first met Jeff Jarvis and Elena Daly when she worked for BLM, she said.

It should be no surprise that friendly relations exist between a federal employee and an NGO lobbyist for whom “NLCS issues accounted for approximately 60 percent of her workload.” Given the casual nature of the communications from Jarvis, it may be that this was a regular thing for other federal employees to engage in.

Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) is awaiting more information on other areas of the Department of Interior. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Congressman Bishop, who had this to say: “This shows an inappropriate and unhealthy relationship between some in the executive branch and some lobbyist groups. This illustrates a legitimacy to our request for more information. While others claimed that this request about the NLCS was a meaningless red herring, we saw smoke and now we see a fire.” What other requests for more information are out there? “We asked the National Park Service for documents as they relate to Homeland Security and what we're doing on the border.”

Has it been difficult to get responses? “If transparency was supposed to be a part of the new administration, it hasn't hit the Department of Interior yet. We feel like footdragging and obstruction are more appropriate words. We got the documents late, eventually, and they illustrated there was a problem. … It's time for the Department of Interior to do some housecleaning.”

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