February 20, 2007
A week ago we flagged a hearing that was held the following Friday in the Committee on Natural Resources on the Interior Department. Chairman Nick J. Rahall promised that it would be just the beginning of a robust, ongoing effort to monitor the department, which made headlines in connection with the scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff but which has seen much broader management problems:

"This Committee has an obligation, one that it has not pursued sufficiently in recent years, to ensure that the Interior Department is serving the interests of the American people and not the interests of a few well-connected individuals or well-placed bureaucrats."

A story filed after that hearing demonstrates what such a culture, devoid of oversight and therefore even the prospect of accountability, can breed:

Interior IG: Senior execs 'immune' from punishment

Government Executive - February 16, 2007

The Interior Department is riddled with serious management flaws, including a culture that lacks accountability, a minerals service notoriously inept at writing oil and gas drilling leases, computer security vulnerabilities and weakness in law enforcement divisions, the department's inspector general said Friday.

Interior IG Earl Devaney appeared along with the Government Accountability Office's director of natural resources and environment, Robin Nazzaro, before the House Natural Resources Committee to update lawmakers on the status of oversight at the agency. It was the first time Devaney had testified before the committee since 2000, he said.

Devaney warned that many of the kinds of improper relationships and favors involved in the Abramoff episodes were "pervasive":

Describing what he said was one of the more serious problems, Devaney told lawmakers, "The failure of department officials to remain at arm's length from prohibited sources is pervasive." In the last two years, his office has found inappropriate gifts of golf outings, dinners, hunting trips, concert tickets and box seats at sporting events, as well as other favors and access privileges, all of which he said violated official standards of ethics for federal employees.

Inspectors also found that supervisors generally received lighter punishments than lower ranked employees, and Senior Executive Service members were "remarkably immune to any adverse action greater than a reprimand."