BLM official’s ouster not ‘a disciplinary action’

By Scott Streater | 06/19/2019 01:31 PM EDT

The mystery continues to deepen surrounding the reasons why the Bureau of Land Management last week removed its top law enforcement official and placed him indefinitely on administrative leave.

The mystery continues to deepen surrounding the reasons why the Bureau of Land Management last week removed its top law enforcement official and placed him indefinitely on administrative leave.

BLM relieved William Woody of his post atop the Office of Law Enforcement and Security (OLES) in a June 11 letter signed by Casey Hammond, the Interior Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, who is currently serving as a de facto acting bureau director.

Hammond gave the letter he signed to Woody the next day at Interior’s Washington, D.C., headquarters. After surrendering his firearm and badge, Woody was escorted out of the building, according to sources with knowledge of the situation (Greenwire, June 17).

William Woody. Photo credit: Utah State University
William Woody. | Utah State University

Hammond’s letter, which was provided to E&E News by a confidential source, said that the decision to place Woody on indefinite administrative leave "is not a disciplinary action and is not intended to be punitive."

But Hammond writes in his letter that Woody is currently the subject of "ongoing investigations" and that administrative leave is appropriate "to allow the Department of the Interior, Department of the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General, and the Bureau of Land Management to work diligently to conclude" these investigations.

The wording of the letter suggests that Interior ultimately plans to transfer him to another position, either within BLM or Interior, or at another federal agency.

Woody’s Washington, D.C.-based attorney, Katherine Atkinson, confirmed that Hammond is the one who signed it and verified the accuracy of the sections read to E&E News.

Atkinson also confirmed that the reason given by Hammond for the decision to place him on administrative leave is Woody’s use of a "government-owned vehicle" he was issued to commute to and from work.

An Interior inspector general’s report last year concluded that Woody used the vehicle "for home-to-work commuting without authorization" for nearly a year, between July 2017 and June 2018.

Woody did not obtain a so-called vehicle domicile form authorizing his use of the government vehicle — a 2017 Ford Taurus — when he returned to BLM in 2017 after a six-year stint as chief of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement.

Hammond’s letter cited only the IG’s investigation as the reason for placing him on administrative leave. But he wrote that this is "serious" in nature. That appears to stem from the fact that Woody "acknowledged" to investigators that he knew he "should have obtained approval before using the" vehicle."

"Consistent with the findings of the OIG, I find that your presence in the workplace during the investigation period, and any advanced written notice period of proposed adverse action, if any, will jeopardize legitimate Agency interests," Hammond wrote.

Atkinson told E&E News that they are not aware of any ongoing investigations involving Woody.

"DOI placed Director Woody on indefinite paid administrative leave citing no reason other than his use of a government vehicle to commute without authorization," Atkinson said in a statement to E&E News.

"Director Woody withheld nothing," she said. "Like most law enforcement officers, Woody has always commuted with a government vehicle. It contains tools he needs as a law enforcement officer to keep all of us safe, if necessary."

She added that "DOI has not consistently required this form, so there have been times throughout his tenure at DOI when he had one and times when he did not."

She said it does not appear that Woody signed such an authorization for government-owned vehicle while serving as FWS’s top law enforcement official. "We’re assuming it wasn’t required," she said.

She also said Woody turned in the keys to the Ford Taurus last year, after the IG’s office submitted its findings to BLM last October.

A former senior Interior official who asked not to be identified said it’s "unusual" that Hammond, the political appointee at the bureau, would sign the letter. Typically, the top career official at BLM handles such actions — in this case, Deputy Director of Operations Mike Nedd.

The source said that Hammond’s signing the letter indicates the decision was "political" in nature.

"The fact that Hammond signed the action would suggest that," the source said.

Several other current and former Interior and BLM officials also questioned why the missing vehicle authorization form would be enough cause to remove Woody. As OLES director, Woody oversaw about 270 rangers and special agents enforcing federal laws and protecting natural resources on the 245 million acres of public lands managed by the bureau, mostly in the West.

"The main thread of the feedback I am getting from employees and retirees is: There must be something more," a source said. "You don’t take a conduct action this extreme because of an outdated vehicle domicile form."

Regardless, the move appears to be permanent.

BLM this week scrubbed Woody’s name from the OLES webpage. They also removed Woody from a separate BLM leadership organization chart on the bureau’s website.

Loren Good, OLES’s acting deputy director for policy and programs, is now listed on both sites as acting director of the law enforcement office.

BLM has declined to discuss the situation, telling E&E News this week it does not comment on personnel matters.