Column: Foxes guarding the henhouse at Interior
"The Bush administration's House of Straw seems to be blowing apart, buffeted by alternating gusts of scandal and incompetence.

The tornado of disastrous headlines -- a Pentagon that can't take proper care of its wounded, a Justice Department that can't be trusted to follow the law or tell the truth to Congress, a top White House aide who lied to a grand jury-- has been so overpowering that the day-to-day outrages of life in the Bush administration tend get overlooked.

So it's worth pausing to pay attention to some recent events that similarly underscore the failings of this administration and illuminate one of their root causes: a contemptuous attitude toward government itself. These episodes illustrate the administration's fox-guarding-the-henhouse personnel plan, the disdain of its appointees for the laws they are sworn to enforce and their spoils-of-war attitude toward the government they are entrusted with overseeing:

· The Interior Department inspector general reported that Julie MacDonald, the official who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service but who has no academic background in biology, overrode the recommendations of agency scientists about how to protect endangered species. MacDonald also shared internal documents with industry officials and groups that lobby for weakened environmental protections, not to mention an online gaming buddy, the IG found.

An Interior lawyer called MacDonald's involvement in one endangered species matter "the most brazen case of political meddling" he had seen in more than 20 years in government. Nor, it seems, is such politicization limited to MacDonald. "Policy trumps science within the Assistant Secretary's corridor on many occasions," another department lawyer told the IG.

· J. Steven Griles, a coal lobbyist who became the No. 2 official at the Interior Department (in other words, his job description didn't much change), pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his relationship with lobbyist/felon Jack Abramoff. Griles's then-girlfriend introduced him to Abramoff and ran a lobbying group that received $500,000 in Abramoff-generated funds; in turn, Abramoff sought and received Griles's help on client matters.

· Griles's new significant other, Sue Ellen Wooldridge, who helped him fend off ethics charges when they both worked at Interior, resigned as head of the Justice Department's environmental section. Wooldridge and Griles bought a $1 million beach house with the top lobbyist for the oil company ConocoPhillips; then Wooldridge -- supposedly with the blessing of ethics officials -- signed off on a move to ease up on anti-pollution requirements imposed on ConocoPhillips as part of a settlement."

Get the Story:
Ruth Marcus: Fox-in-the-Henhouse Government (The Washington Post 4/4)
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Relevant Documents:
DOJ Press Release | Charge of Information | Plea Agreement | Statement of Facts | Earl Devaney Statement

November 2, 2005, Hearing:
Transcript | Webcast | Testimony

Cobell Declarations:
November 15, 2001 | June 4, 2002

Inspector General Report:
J. Steven Griles Investigation (March 2004)

From the Indianz.Com Archive:
Norton stripping BIA of trust duties (November 16, 2001) | Tribal leaders in uproar over proposal (November 16, 2001) | Griles taking lead on trust reform (November 5, 2001)

Indianz.Com Profile:
The downfall of J. Steven Griles (3/26)
Deputy Secretary: J. Steven Griles (3/9)

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