INTERIOR

Ousted top cop no longer at BLM

The Bureau of Land Management's former top law enforcement official — who was removed from office last year under still-mysterious circumstances — has apparently dropped his efforts to be reinstated.

William Woody, former director of BLM's Office of Law Enforcement and Security, who last June was escorted out of the Interior Department's headquarters and placed on administrative leave, "is no longer an employee of the Bureau of Land Management," a bureau spokeswoman confirmed in an email to E&E News.

"In keeping with BLM standards and policies, we cannot comment further on this or any other personnel matter," the statement says.

The news of Woody's permanent departure comes five months after he filed an age discrimination and disability complaint against the Interior Department that demanded his "immediate return" to the director's position he held off and on since 2003 (Greenwire, Aug. 29, 2019).

It's not clear what became of that discrimination complaint filed with Interior's Office of Civil Rights.

The BLM spokeswoman said the agency cannot discuss the matter.

Woody's Washington-based attorney, Katherine Atkinson, did not respond to multiple requests for information from E&E News.

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It's possible that Woody could still file a federal discrimination lawsuit.

But sources said the most likely outcome is that he and the Interior Department reached a settlement that allows Woody, 63, to retire.

Woody, who has prostate cancer, had alleged in the discrimination complaint that he was removed in part due to "physical disability."

Any settlement would have included a nondisclosure agreement in which all parties agree not to publicly discuss the matter, according to a former senior BLM official and other Interior Department observers.

The settlement would likely include the payment of Woody's attorneys fees, the sources said.

Thus appears to end one of the more bizarre chapters involving senior leadership at BLM in recent years.

It started in June following an Interior Office of Inspector General investigation that found Woody had used a "government-owned vehicle" for work for nearly a year between July 2017 and June 2018 without filling out the appropriate paperwork (Greenwire, June 17, 2019).

Many questioned whether a so-called paperwork mistake would warrant removing a senior BLM official like Woody, who 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.

Nevertheless, Casey Hammond, currently Interior's acting assistant secretary for land and minerals management, handed Woody a letter June 12 explaining that he was being removed while "ongoing investigations" involving him were completed. Woody was required to surrender his firearm and badge and was escorted out of the Interior headquarters building, according to sources with knowledge of the situation (Greenwire, June 19, 2019).

Jason O'Neal, previously assistant director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Office of Justice Services, has filled in on an acting basis for Woody, a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va.

Hammond, who at the time was "exercising authority of the director" of BLM, said in the letter to Woody that he was removing him based on the findings in the IG's report completed in October 2018 but stressed that the move was not a "disciplinary action."

But Hammond also implied in his letter that Woody was under an ongoing Interior IG's investigation.

The IG's office later disputed that, saying Woody was not the subject of any further investigations (Greenwire, June 20, 2019).

BLM has yet to explain publicly why its top law enforcement official was removed from office.

Help wanted: New OLES director

Meanwhile, BLM isn't wasting time moving on from Woody.

The bureau this week posted the vacant Office of Law Enforcement and Security director's position on USAJobs.

The job listing notes that the position is a Senior Executive Service level position, with an annual salary of between $170,800 and $197,300.

And the OLES director will be stationed at BLM's new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., according to the listing.

The OLES director's responsibilities, the ad says, include "overall responsibility for the Bureau's law enforcement and security principles, policies, and procedures, providing direction in the areas of law enforcement, security, and protection operations."

The transition to a new OLES director comes as BLM considers potentially overhauling the bureau's law enforcement office (Greenwire, Nov. 25, 2019).

Some Western GOP congressional leaders, including Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R), have harshly criticized the bureau's law enforcement activities.

Lee in the past has called for a shutdown of BLM's law enforcement in favor of sheriffs and other local officials.

William Perry Pendley, BLM's acting chief, authored an op-ed published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal in November that appeared to support calls to rein in the bureau.

Pendley wrote that BLM law enforcement officials would "maintain deference" to local officials. He wrote that doing so is "essential to making BLM a truly productive and valued partner to Western communities."

Much of the criticism of BLM law enforcement in recent years has centered on former OLES special agent Dan Love, whom Woody hired. Love left BLM in 2017 after investigations found he violated federal ethics rules at the Burning Man festival and mishandled criminal evidence in a separate case (Greenwire, Sept. 18, 2017).

Love also oversaw security during BLM's disastrous attempt in 2014 to round up Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy's illegally grazing cattle. That incident involved a tense standoff between law enforcement officials and armed militia members who blocked federal agents from removing the cattle.

Email: sstreater@eenews.net

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