Washington, DC — The Obama transition should reach out to reformers and whistleblowers to transform the scandal-wracked U.S. Department of Interior, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Under President Bush, corporate penetration into the top echelons at Interior resulted in a prison term for its number-two official, losses of billions in oil royalty dollars and scandals ranging from sex and drug parties to unprecedented political manipulation of science.
President-elect Obama naming Senator Ken Salazar (D-CO) as Interior Secretary-designate was greeted with a huge sigh of relief from drilling, mining and livestock interests. In his short statement at the December 17th press conference, Salazar stressed “As the Nominee to be Secretary of the Interior, I will do all I can to help reduce America’s dangerous dependence on foreign oil.” He made only passing reference to protecting natural resources and no mention of the parade of recent scandals.
“’The change we need’ requires change agents,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, recalling an Obama campaign slogan. “Energy production, the stated priority of Secretary-designate Salazar, is only one of many issues confronting Interior; we desperately need leaders passionately committed to public service, protecting public resources and the plethora of other problems plaguing this gigantic agency which controls one out of every five acres in the U.S.”
To run the agencies within Interior, PEER is presenting the Obama transition with a slate of agency veterans and experts who exhibit what the President-elect calls “a new kind of leadership”. Most have made career sacrifices to advance the stewardship principles that are the cornerstones of their agencies’ missions. The PEER “nominees” include –
- Martha Hahn as Director of the Bureau of Land Management. Martha has more than 25 years of experience in both the BLM and Park Service. In 2002, at the behest of Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), she was removed at the BLM Idaho State Director by Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles in connection with grazing reforms she had instituted. Today, she is Division Chief for Science and Resource Management at Grand Canyon National Park;
- John Donahue as the Director of the National Park Service. John has served at several national parks and received the Stephen T. Mather Award for exemplary stewardship in addressing off-road vehicle challenges as Superintendent of Big Cypress National Preserve. He is regarded as one of the most forward-thinking park managers in the nation and is currently Superintendent of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area;
- Bobby Maxwell as Director of Minerals Management Service. Formerly an audit manager at MMS, Bobby blew the whistle on vast royalty underpayment by major oil companies but was ordered to drop his issue and was later “re-organized” out of his position in 2005. As a private citizen, Maxwell filed a suit to recover the billions of dollars owed to taxpayers and has campaigned against what he calls the “cult of corruption” at MMS;
- Phil Doe as Commissioner of Reclamation. In his 20 years at the Bureau of Reclamation, Phil exposed and ended large illegal water subsidies to agribusiness posing as family farms. He pushed other cost recovery policies to protect the taxpayer interest in huge water projects. Since leaving Reclamation, he has been a citizen activist promoting protection of the public’s water resources;
- Patrick McGinley as Director of the Office of Surface Mining. Patrick has 35 years of experience with the administration and enforcement of laws relating to coal mine health and safety and coal mining and reclamation. He is the grandson of a coal miner who suffered from black lung disease and served as a Special Assistant Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, on the “Environmental Strike Force” enforced mine safety and anti-pollution laws. Today he is a law professor at West Virginia University College of Law;
- Robert McCarthy as Interior Solicitor. In late 2007, as a Field Solicitor, McCarthy testified against his own agency in the Indian trust class action lawsuit Cobell v. Kempthorne. He contradicted Interior’s central defense that it can accurately account for income from leases of 300,000 Indian landowners and was cited by the judge in his ruling for the plaintiffs. Currently he is the Managing Attorney of the Oklahoma City Law Office for Legal Aid Services and recently received the Fern Holland Courageous Lawyer Award from the state bar association; and
- Teresa Chambers as Chief of the U.S. Park Police. Just days after giving an interview with the Washington Post, revealing low staffing levels, Chief Teresa Chambers was ordered to surrender her badge, weapon and ID and was relieved of her duties. In what has become the prime example of the Bush administration’s suppression of information, Chambers was ultimately removed from the Chief position. She recently won an appeal of that action before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Chambers is presently serving as Chief of Police for Riverdale Park, a town in Prince George's County, Maryland.
“Many of these agencies have been gutted, not just by the Bush appointees but, in some cases, by the Clintonites before them,” Ruch added. “To repair the damage, we need a new direction, not just placeholders.”