Government Official Faulted for Science Meddling, Leaks of Private Information
WASHINGTON -- A government official broke federal rules and should face punishment for leaking information about endangered species to private groups, the Interior Department's watchdog said.
The department's deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks acknowledged releasing information that was not supposed to be made public to organizations such as the California Farm Bureau Federation and Pacific Legal Foundation, according to the agency's inspector general.
Environmentalists and other critics contend Julie MacDonald undermined federal endangered species protections. In the report by Earl Devaney, Interior Department officials describe MacDonald as a political appointee bent on manipulating science to fit her policy goals, which they said favor developers and industry.
The report said MacDonald:
--Removed more than 80 percent of almost 300 miles of streams that were to be protected to help bull trout recover in the Northwest's Klamath River basin.
--Tried to remove protections for a rare jumping mouse in the Rocky Mountains based on a questionable study.
--Pressured the Fish and Wildlife Service to alter findings on the Kootenai River sturgeon in Idaho and Montana so dam operations would not be harmed.
Interior Department spokeswoman Tina Kreisher said MacDonald was not immediately available for comment Thursday.
Rep. Nick Rahall, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said he would hold a hearing in May about the report and the broader issues it raises.
The hearing will provide "a sweeping review on whether politics is infiltrating decisions" and subverting science in the government's handling of endangered species, said Rahall, D-W.Va., who released Devaney's report.
The findings were first reported in Thursday's New York Times.
Devaney said his office began investigating after an anonymous complaint in April 2006 that MacDonald acted unethically and illegally when she "bullied, insulted and harassed the professional staff" of the Fish and Wildlife Service to alter scientific evidence.
"A lot of that is true," Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall is quoted as saying in the report, adding that he has been in a "running battle" with MacDonald since he took over the service in October 2005.
Devaney said he uncovered no illegal activity by MacDonald. But he said she broke rules that prohibit the disclosure of private agency information and that require public officials to avoid appearing to give anyone preferential treatment.
Twice, according to the report, she sent internal Environmental Protection Agency documents to people whose e-mail addresses ended in chevrontexaco.com; ChevronTexaco was the name used after oil companies Chevron Corp. and Texaco Inc. merged in 2001, though it was changed to Chevron in 2005.
Devaney referred the matter to Interior Department officials for potential punishment. Kreisher said the report was under review and that officials would have no comment on a personnel issue.
MacDonald is a hydraulic engineer with a master's degree in management but no background in natural sciences. She joined the Bush administration in July 2002 as a senior adviser for fish, wildlife and parks. She was promoted to deputy assistant secretary in 2004.
"It's a travesty that a high-level political appointee with no training in biology is rewriting the conclusions of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists," said Melissa Waage, legislative director for the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group.
On the Net:
Interior Department's inspector general: http://www.doioig.gov/
House Natural Resources: http://resourcescommittee.house.gov/
Source: Associated Press