An Ethics Overhaul at BLM?

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Looks like the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management plans to look into the potential ethics violations of its former New Mexico district manager, Steve Henke, after all. Henke, as we’ve reported here previously, was cited by the Department of Interior’s inspector general for what seemed like pretty clear violations of ethics policy, like accepting trips from the companies he was supposed to be regulating and getting them to fund his kid’s baseball team. He recently left his post to take a job as head of an oil and gas industry advocacy group. This week, BLM Director Bob Abbey signaled that he wants the Department to investigate the case again.

Abbey sent a letter to Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall asking her office to “renew its investigative inquiries regarding certain ‘questionable activities’ that may have occurred during the tenure of Steve Henke, to include activities which eventually led to his employment by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.”

The watchdogs over at the Project on Government Oversight have been calling for an investigation, pointing to this as just another example of an agency in the Department of Interior falling down on the job. The group applauded today’s announcement, but wondered if there are larger reforms underway.

“Why does it take a punch in the gut to get Interior to do anything on ethics? This is an obvious first step that BLM needs to take in order to assure the public that the agency takes a serious approach to ethics,” said Danielle Brian, POGO’s executive director. “But Interior still needs a cultural overhaul. We all saw what happened the last time an agency within Interior made itself vulnerable to industry influence and failed to hold ethics offenders accountable.” (She’s referring, of course, to the former Minerals Management Service, whose many failures have been fingered in the months since the Deepwater Horizon disaster.).

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