For Immediate Release: Feb 05, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337
Bernhardt Brags of Interior Ethics Turnaround
Claims Progress in Stemming “Avalanche of Ethical Misconduct” across All Bureaus
Washington, DC — In a self-serving all-employee message acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt says that he is cleaning up the ethics “mess we inherited.” In fact, Bernhardt has made little progress in reforming Interior while ushering in new dimensions of rule-bending and sleazy tactics, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Bernhardt’s February 1 memo decries “a culture of ethics avoidance” and asserts that he has given more than “rhetorical lip service to ethical conduct, I have taken action.” The only action identified in the memo, however, is hiring a handful of departmental ethics officers. Yet, under Bernhardt’s watch –
- Surveys show high levels of harassment in the ranks and little confidence in accountability;
- In August, the Inspector General warned Bernhardt about “weak or non-existent controls” on financial arrangements, even as Interior ignored multiple warnings about an illegal multi-million-dollar slush fund in the Bureau of Reclamation; and
- An official who engaged in illegal actions and lied to cover it up was brought out of retirement to run the National Park Service.
“It is awfully late in the day for someone like Bernhardt to hold himself up as a paragon of virtue,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch who pointed to Bernhardt’s role in misleading Congress about the impacts of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge under Bush before returning to work as an oil and gas lobbyist. “Interior remains an ethical cesspool with the deepest rot in its top echelons.”
In the memo, Bernhardt also claims that he “fundamentally believes in” and has “appreciation and affection for” Interior’s mission. Yet, he has engineered a series of actions that undermine Interior’s mission to “conserve the Nation’s natural resources and cultural heritage” by shrinking national monuments, expanding oil and gas drilling, and a host of other anti-conservation steps, including–
- Rolling back all fish and wildlife protections on all Interior lands stricter than state game rules, authorizing practices such as shooting bears and wolves in their dens, hunting over bait, and shooting from motor vehicles;
- Reintroducing genetically modified crops and powerful insecticides onto wildlife refuges; and
- Forbidding national parks from limiting sales of single-use plastic bottles, benefiting one of Bernhardt’s former clients, Nestlé one of the largest water bottlers in the U.S.
“David Bernhardt has done more to undermine the mission of the Interior Department than almost any other living human,” add Ruch, noting many of his actions directly benefit his former clients. “This memo appears to be preening for a promotion from a White House that embraces alternative facts.”
The Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee is now investigating whether Bernhardt broke laws during the shutdown. PEER has also filed a complaint citing his violations of the Antideficiency Act, a law that prescribes removal from office as a penalty.
Examine Bernhardt’s anti conservation record:
Rollback of wildlife protections