Bureau of Land Management employees appeared to be "less than objective" and created the potential for illegal behavior when coordinating with environmental groups over the National Landscape Conservation System, the Interior inspector general has found.
The Interior IG investigated the interaction between federal employees and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) after receiving a complaint that NLCS directors were potentially engaged in inappropriate relationships with advocacy groups and possibly violated anti-lobbying statutes and policies. The report focuses largely on interactions with the National Wildlife Federation.
"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," the IG report states. "We also uncovered a general disregard for establishing and maintaining boundaries among the various entities."
The investigation found that numerous activities and communications took place between NLCS officials and advocacy groups, including discussions about the NLCS budget and the editing of brochures and production of fact sheets by BLM employees for the National Wildlife Federation.
The IG turned over the findings to the chief of public corruption at the U.S. Attorney's Office, who said that the law covering "lobbying with appropriated monies" has no criminal sanctions associated with it and thus declined to prosecute in lieu of administrative action. BLM has 90 days to provide a written response outlining what actions it takes as a result of the IG findings.
The NLCS is a collage of more than 27 million acres of wilderness, conservation areas, rivers and monuments managed and protected by BLM established administratively by President Clinton nearly a decade ago and put into law in March when President Obama signed the public lands omnibus bill.
Last year, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) requested BLM to provide him with documents and correspondence from key NLCS officials. While BLM was reviewing documents in response to that request, BLM's Public Affairs Office identified two e-mails it believed evidenced misconduct by NLCS Division Chief Jeff Jarvis, so BLM Deputy Director Henri Bisson referred the matter to the IG, the report said.
While investigating the complaint, the IG identified several additional issues, including possible disclosure of proprietary information by NLCS Director Elena Daly to advocacy groups concerning the California Desert Conservation Area and assistance from NLCS officials to outside groups for a hunting and fishing brochure and a fact sheet.
In May of 2006, a representative from the Wilderness Society e-mailed Jarvis, informing him that he was scheduled to speak about BLM's budget process at an NLCS Coalition meeting the next month as part of NLCS Outreach Week. Jarvis did give the presentation, according to Bisson. Jarvis told IG investigators that he did not recall the meeting but that he routinely discussed the BLM budget with groups and was aware of specific rules over what could and could not be discussed concerning the budget.
In November of 2007, Jarvis e-mailed a "legislative representative," or lobbyist, for the National Wildlife Federation, saying he was in New Mexico looking at the Galisteo Basin and asking "what would it take to add a few small areas to the legislation" that was then pending to codify the NLCS. The IG report did not identify the lobbyist, but documents obtained by E&E show that it was Denise Ryan (E&E Daily, Nov. 10, 2008).
Ryan, who no longer works for NWF, would not comment on whether it was appropriate for a federal employee to ask her about adding to, or otherwise influencing, legislation, but said the requested changes were not made, the report states.
Daly told the IG that she asked Jarvis about the e-mail and that he responded, "It was felony stupidity. I admit it. But it was nothing more than that." Jarvis denied that his comment was an admission that he was asking for units to be added to the legislation, and said he was trying to get information about the process, the report says.
Also in November 2007, the NWF official asked NLCS and BLM officials for recommendations on a brochure on hunting and fishing opportunities in the NLCS. Several BLM officials agreed to have their staffs review and edit the document. NWF paid for 1,000 copies and BLM paid for the remaining 1,500, plus overnight shipping costs to Arizona, at a cost of $4,328, the report said.
Daly told the IG that BLM's response to the request about the brochure should not be seen as assisting with lobbying efforts because BLM officials only assisted with "fact checking" and wanted to ensure that information that got to the public was accurate. Dwight Fielder, BLM's chief of fish, wildlife, and plant conservation, said he did not know that the NWF official worked in a lobbying capacity or that she used the hunting and fishing brochure to lobby for congressional support for the NLCS.
The NWF legislative representative said the NWF paid the entire balance owed for the printing costs, then BLM reimbursed NWF for the copies it received for "BLM informational uses." She said the brochures were distributed to members of Congress as an "educational piece," not a lobbying piece.
Celia Boddington, BLM assistant director for communications, said NLCS officials did not send the hunting and fishing brochure to the Public Affairs Office for review, thereby violating proper procedures.
The NWF official also coordinated with BLM and NLCS officials on writing a hunting and shooting fact sheet after the National Rifle Association decided not to support the legislation, the report said. Jarvis could not explain to the IG why a version of the fact sheet sent to him from the federation official was nearly the same as the fact sheet that she admittedly used to lobby congressional members nor why the NWF legislative representative thanked him for "whipping a team together" to help with the fact sheet.
NLCS officials told IG investigators that their relationships and communication with outside groups supported an agencywide initiative to develop and maintain partnerships with these entities and that they did not discuss with the groups topics that were off-limits for federal employees. But BLM's deputy ethics counselor characterized the relationship between NLCS and the NWF legislative representative as "incestuous" and stated that NLCS "probably crossed the line" in its contacts with the advocacy groups.
Jim Lyon, NWF's senior vice president of conservation, said, "National Wildlife Federation cooperated fully with the Inspector General's office on this DOI staff matter. With the release of the IG's report, the investigation is now closed, and we have no further comment."
Click here to read the IG report.