Guest OpEd by Lisa LeBlanc
“Where are all the Watchdogs?”
A New Year. New chances, new reasons for enthusiasm, for change, for hope. Events concerning long-standing Wild Horse and Burro issues seem ripe with optimism – in new policies released by the Bureau of Land Management, in legal pursuits finally given merited gravity, in earnest investigations into violations of Federal laws as they apply to the Wild Horse and Burro Act.
Recent experiences have shown that some outwardly earnest investigations into administration of the Act, a Public Law, were less than adequate, with teams primed for participation in events tailored for their observations or inquiries conducted by the agency itself.
The resulting reports were equally less than adequate.
Any solid investigation should result in changes to the policies that required the investigation in the first place. And the investigations should be conducted by the agency’s independent watchdogs – the Offices of the Inspectors General.
In December, 2011, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) released a report, “Time To Appoint an Effective Inspector General at Interior”, authored by Kirsten Slade. The report outlined issues which had occurred under Earl Devaney as Inspector General. According to the report, among many transgressions, low to mid-level personnel in investigations were named and/or punished, while high level appointees were shielded, remaining anonymous. Mr. Devaney was eventually appointed to oversee fraud on stimulus funds. He then retired in 2011.
Enter Acting IG Mary Kendall. PEER contends Kendall, a long-time aide of Devaney’s, perpetuated those same erratic practices, including:
- Deep-sixing its own reports for political reasons and waging long battles to withhold documents from responses to the Freedom of Information Act. Under Kendall, the IG has paid PEER thousands of tax dollars in recovered fees and costs for successful FOIA suits, including one check from the IG which bounced and had to be replaced; and
- Pursuing a ham-handed, baffling, nearly two-year probe of Arctic scientists’ 2004 sightings of drowned polar bears in open water following a storm.
PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch stated, “Interior continues to lurch from debacle to debacle in part because the work of the Inspector General generates heat but sheds little light.” And that “Interior’s Office of Inspector General desperately needs new leadership.”
In a related article entitled “Rising Doubts on Interior Inspector General”, dated October, 2012, Director Ruch states, “To be effective and remain independent, an IG must be willing on a daily basis to get canned or resign if the mission is compromised.”
The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), had also released a report, “Where Are All The Watchdogs?”, which illustrates those agencies with no permanent Inspectors General. The Department of Interior, as of this writing, has been without a permanent IG for 1,412 days, since February, 2009; Acting IG Mary Kendall is still in charge of Interior’s investigations.
Why the necessity for a permanent IG? POGO explains:
Why Having a Permanent IG Is Important:
OIGs are best positioned to be effective when led by a highly qualified permanent IG, rather than an acting official or no IG at all. Permanent IGs undergo significant vetting—especially the IGs that require Senate confirmation—before taking their position. That vetting process helps to instill confidence among OIG stakeholders—Congress, agency officials, whistleblowers, and the public—that the OIG is truly independent and that its investigations and audits are accurate and credible.
In addition, a permanent IG has the ability to set a long-term strategic plan for the office, including setting investigative and audit priorities. An acting official, on the other hand, is known by all OIG staff to be temporary, which one former IG has argued “can have a debilitating effect on [an] OIG, particularly over a lengthy period.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) has echoed that sentiment, saying “Even the best acting inspector general lacks the standing to make lasting changes needed to improve his or her office.” (emphasis added)
Investigations into the Bureau of Land Management’s violations of policies and administration of the Wild Horse and Burro Act, a Public Law, must be viable, ethical and independent of the Bureau of Land Management’s purview. At this juncture, the Bureau has difficulty acknowledging violations exist, choosing instead to characterize disobedience or abuse as anomalies, cloak them in secrecy or ‘privacy’, or worse – claim ignorance of their occurrence. Typically, it’s lax rendition of those policies in lieu of any admission of wrong doing.
The purpose of this report is not to corner either the Bureau of Land Management or the OIG. Instead, it’s an invitation – for an honest and rigorous examination of the pertinent facts. An examination which should be, at the very least, the same caliber and quality as:
- Thousands of hours of authenticated video footage and photographs: From diverse members of the Public, visual testimony taken during wild equine removals and the processing to holding facilities.
- Hundreds of verifiable research reports; hundreds of hours spent compiling them.
- Countless FOIA requests, and the subsequent revelations.
- Innumerable responses by the interested Public: In answer to Environmental Assessments, thoroughly reviewed subject matter, successfully countering the lack of science or evidence in those assessments, yet unable to alter the decisions.
The only apparent deficiency? The Public – though proven to be fully capable and meticulous in both gathering evidence and rendering conclusions – is not an acceptable investigative body of the Federal Government.
According to POGO, the offices of Inspectors General :
“…serve as independent watchdogs within federal agencies and are essential to a well-functioning federal government.”
Perhaps it’s time the Public weighed in.
The Wild Horse and Burro Act is Public Law 92-195, not simply a list of suggestions for selective interpretation. Time has marked nearly four years without a permanent and effective IG at the Department of Interior. That same time frame has shown Public appeals for genuine inquiry into questionable practices in the Wild Horse and Burro Program are consistently trivialized and the excessive, rationalized.
(The web site for the ‘Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Interior’ is currently ‘unavailable’ due to security concerns.)