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Once Plagued by Scandal, Interior Dept. Promotes Good Ethics

Our Tabke Box

Longtime followers of the Project On Government Oversight will remember the days when it seemed like one ethics issue after another plagued the Department of the Interior. From government employees strolling through the revolving door to the infamously cozy relationship between staff and industry that resulted in allegations of drug use and sexual misconduct, the Department was rife with scandal just a few years ago.

POGO was a vocal advocate of departmental reform (and saw one of our major policy recommendations enacted by the Department in 2009), so we were happy to see signs of a more ethical Interior during our latest visit to the C Street headquarters. Copies of the Department’s ethics guide were available nearly everywhere we looked.

Ethics Book

Images from the Interior Department's Ethics Guide

The guide is presented as a “plain English” approach to the laws and regulations governing Interior Department employees, and covers everything from gambling (don’t do it on government property or while on duty) to accepting gifts (greeting cards are A-Okay).

For instance, the guide notes that employees can usually accept some small gifts (“coffee, donuts, other modest food items not offered as part of a meal”), while most gifts over $20 are prohibited (such as the “tickets to a Toby Keith concert, a Houston Texans football game and a Colorado Rockies baseball game” some employees accepted from industry in 2008).

This little guide also covers the revolving door, stating that the rules for seeking employment while working for the government are actually “more restrictive than most Federal employees realize.” In fact, employees can face criminal penalties if they don’t follow the rules.

(Of course, we don’t need this guide to tell us that government employees from various agencies have been known to bend the rules when it comes to getting a new job.)

We wish all government agencies had such handy, quick reference guides. But for those that don’t, or for those of you who prefer your ethics guides to have more of a ‘90s educational-video flair, the Office of Government Ethics YouTube page has got you covered.

Images by Pam Rutter.

By: Mia Steinle
Investigator, POGO

Mia Steinle, Investigator Mia Steinle is an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight and the civil society coordinator for the U.S. Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. Her work focuses on government management of the oil, gas, and mining industries.

Topics: Energy and Natural Resources

Related Content: Department of Interior Oversight, Ethics

Authors: Mia Steinle

Submitted by dave at: September 20, 2014
As a recent retiree of 31 years and 8 administrations, with DOI, I strongly disagree with conclusions of this article. The booklet referenced in the article covers nothing more than overt brides, or what might be construed as bribes and gifts. It does not address corruption or malfeasance. Politicially interference and corruption in technical analysis, re-writing unfavorable analysis, data falsification, and threats and reprisals against scientists with analysis that differs from the ideology of the administration has not improved since the mid 1990s. In my view, corruption has continued to get worse.
Submitted by Andre Francisco at: January 13, 2014
Hello Bill, POGO is interested in hearing more details regarding the information you've provided. Could you please fill out our Report Corruption form here: Thank you.
Submitted by FEDUP at: January 13, 2014
Except for their IG office:
Submitted by Bill Meeker at: January 9, 2014
Mia, I was shocked to see this article suggesting DOI had cleaned up its act. One DOI agency that remains corrupt to the core is FWS, especially the International Office. I have been fighting them for five years now, trying to get them to follow their own regs in issuing me export permits but without success. Members of Congress agree with me, even Representative Hastings, the Chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, but all claim they can do nothing to stop the corruption. Elinor Colbourn is a DOJ prosecutor for violations of environmental and wildlife law. She attempted to start an investigation on FWS officials but the DOI Solicitor refused to refer the case, thus preventing it. Yes, the FWS is more corrupt today than ever and has a supporting Solicitor to prevent these officials from being held accountable. My guess is the Solicitor is refusing referrals throughout DOI but certainly this office protects FWS officials. If you want details and documentation, I have stacks. Thanks.

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