One important note to the recent Inspector General (IG) report on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manager-turned industry group president Steve Henke is that the investigation was provoked by a referral from the Government Accountability Office (GAO). That kind of GAO referral is, in our experience, rarely seen. It's great to see members of the oversight community work together and the IG deserves kudos for following through on the referral. But it's also clear that in the course of conducting reports raising concerns about BLM's use of categorical exclusions and land value oversight, GAO investigators were concerned that Henke was too close to oil and gas industry officials—and perhaps felt that those ties were so egregious that they simply couldn’t be ignored.
As this story unfolds, we’re starting to wonder if Mr. Henke’s attitude reflects broader attitudes towards ethics policies at his former agency. It's outrageous that Mr. Henke is so incredulous about the criticism being directed toward him. He violated ethics policies that were bright red lines—don't solicit money from industry, disclose gifts—and accelerating an application for a company that gave his son an internship raises questions about whether there was a quid pro quo relationship. Any BLM employee should know better, and as a manager, it was even more important for him to follow the rules and set an example. Because Mr. Henke was in management, these ethics failures are potentially indicative of a larger culture of cozy relationships with industry at BLM. Furthermore, since we’ve seen the same too-close-to-industry failures at the Minerals Management Service (MMS), we think the Department of Interior needs stricter rules and more consequences for bad actors across the board.
Secretary Salazar did the right thing by asking the IG to investigate ethics at MMS, and now might be a good time for him to request a similar study of BLM. He may want to start with the ethics office and ask them why they cleared Mr. Henke for working for an industry group.
Additionally, while the proposed legislation to close the revolving door between offshore regulators and industry is a great step in the right direction, Mr. Henke demonstrates that there needs to be similar action to tighten revolving door restrictions and ethics rules throughout the Department of the Interior, and not just for offshore regulators.
-- Mandy Smithberger