When former Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field manager Steve Henke was hired as the new president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association (NMOGA), he was selected as an "ideal choice" because of how well he worked with industry when he was at BLM. At the time, there were rumors that Henke had been overly favorable to industry, no one could point to any document that proved he was too cozy.
Until now, of course.
Today we obtained, via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, a Department of the Interior Inspector General investigation that found that while at BLM Henke received golf tickets, lodging, and meals from Williams Exploration and Production—a prohibited source—and solicited approximately $8,000 in donations from the company for his son's youth baseball team. The investigation did not find any evidence that Henke committed any corrupt or official acts to benefit the company. But on one occassion, Mr. Henke also expedited BLM drilling permits for the Merrion Oil & Gas Company, who offered his son an internship. And in large part, the IG found, BLM's human resources officials agreed that Henke should have vetted his son's internship and that he shouldn't have solicited donations or accepted golfing tickets or other gifts valued over $20 from industry.
Generally, one of our main objections to the revolving door is that—at best—it creates the appearance of a lack of independence, and raises questions about whose interests were being served by a public official that goes on to work for an industry they were charged with overseeing. What's far worse is when it turns out that those post-federal employment negotiations translate to favoring future employers or abusing their access to other companies' proprietary information.
In this case while Mr. Henke was certainly cozy with industry, it's not clear that he has abused the privileges of his public service. The San Juan Citizens Alliance and several enviromental groups echoed many of POGO's concerns about Mr. Henke's walk through the revolving door in a letter they sent to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and BLM Director Bob Abbey. The groups call for—and POGO agrees—that (1) the Department of Interior should restrict Mr. Henke, in his position as President of NMOGA, from deliberations and/or interaction with New Mexico State BLM and its New Mexico Field Offices, as well as any other office within the BLM that may be appropriate, for two years and that (2) an independent ethics review and opinion on Mr. Henke's new position not conducted by BLM employees. Read their whole letter here.
-- Mandy Smithberger
Addendum: One reader points out that Williams has a vast 125 square mile seismic project that SJCA challenged and is currently before IBLA (IBLA 2010-23 Appeal of West Rosa Geophysical Exploration or 3D EA).