PRESS RELEASE

Interior IG Sits on Migratory Bird Ethics Complaint

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For Immediate Release: Thursday, June 11, 2020
Contact:  Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

Interior IG Sits on Migratory Bird Ethics Complaint

Inspector General Wants FWS Retirees to Name Those Who Complained

Washington, DC — A complaint of ethics and legal violations from a group of senior retired U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) employees is stuck in limbo, according to correspondence posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General (IG) has informed the retirees their complaint will not be investigated until they reveal the names of FWS employees who quietly complained.

The complaint was triggered by a FWS press release announcing a public comment period on the agency’s proposed rule to weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) by allowing industry to kill birds in their operations without legal consequences unless the government proves the killings were intentional. In a departure from published ethics guidelines, that press release included favorable statements from 28 industry organizations and others, including the Chamber of Commerce and National Mining Association.

The retired Public Affairs, Communications, and Outreach officers, representing more than 200 years of combined experience, asked the IG to investigate whether FWS officials had, among other things –

  • Pressured veteran staff to violate their professional ethics and scientific responsibilities in preparing a proposal to reverse the Service’s long-standing position;
  • Improperly gave advance non-public information to the entities submitting supportive comments in the FWS press release; and
  • Violated regulatory requirements of impartiality before the public process had begun.

“The Inspector General investigates anonymous complaints all the time – that’s the IG’s job,” remarked PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins, noting that the retirees had provided a list of employees to interview and communications to review. “Requiring that complainants be named before the IG even asks a question is both outrageous and likely to revictimize the victims.”

The MBTA is one of the nation’s oldest conservation laws and is the main tool for protecting millions of migratory birds from electrocution, poisoning, and other causes of mortality.

“It doesn’t make any sense for an Inspector General with an anonymous tip hotline to require the names of the employees before they will investigate a complaint,” said David Klinger of Boise, Idaho, a former regional press chief with the FWS. “Increasingly, IGs in the Trump Administration appear to be losing their primary focus – to investigate.”

Apart from the environmental impacts, the complaint concerns industry attempts to control what is supposed to be an open, fair, and scientifically-based process of rulemaking.  While the FWS press release in this instance was particularly blatant in featuring a pre-selected Greek chorus of supporting special interests, the same style of improper pre-determination is becoming increasingly common in federal agency handling of public comments in the rule-making process.

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Read the May 8 letter from the FWS retirees

See the ethics complaint and related materials