WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Monday asked the Department of the Interior Inspector General to initiate a broad examination of the department’s enforcement of ethics agreements designed to assure impartiality and avoid conflicts of interest. The request comes as a result of press reports raising questions about Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles’ compliance with his ethics agreements.
In a letter to Inspector General Earl E. Devaney, dated April 7, 2003, Lieberman said a number of news stories have indicated that Griles met with oil and gas industry officials whom he once represented and who have financial stakes in department decisions, and that Griles attended department meetings at which business of interest to his former clients was discussed.
“These reports raise numerous, troubling questions about whether the deputy secretary has successfully avoided conflicts of interest, or the appearance of conflicts,” Lieberman said.
Before taking office, Griles was a consultant for several oil and gas companies with high-stake financial interests before the Interior department. He signed at least two documents agreeing to recuse himself from department business that involved his former clients. The Associated Press reported last week, using documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, that Griles had participated in meetings to discuss oil and gas leases in which his previous clients had a stake. Other news reports indicated Griles met several times with former clients to discuss issues his recusal agreements bar him from discussing.
“The Department of the Interior manages vast land and mineral holdings on behalf of the American public, an awesome responsibility that puts those who oversee management of these resources in positions of significant public trust,” Lieberman said. “Their decisions about the production or preservation of valuable resources have far-reaching consequences, both today and for future generations. They must be beyond suspicion.”
Lieberman asked the inspector general for information regarding the Interior Department’s process for enforcing recusal agreements and he asked for a specific investigation into the allegations regarding Griles, his compliance with the recusal agreements, and the department’s monitoring of those agreements. Following is a copy of the letter:
April 7, 2003
The Honorable Earl E. Devaney
U.S. Department of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240
Dear Mr. Devaney:
The Department of the Interior (DOI) manages vast mineral and land holdings on behalf of the American public and exercises an important trust responsibility on behalf of Native Americans. The individuals who oversee the management of these publicly-owned resources occupy positions of significant public trust. Their decisions regarding the disposition, production, or preservation of valuable resources have far-reaching consequences, both today and for future generations. Many of the appointees to these positions had previous careers working for, or representing, the same entities who will reap the financial benefits of DOI’s decisions. Thus, it is especially important that Americans have a reason to be confident that such officials exercise their public trust responsibilities in full conformance with applicable laws, including all ethical requirements. Last fall, a controversy arose regarding Deputy Secretary of the Interior J. Steven Griles. News stories reported that, after taking office, Mr. Griles met with oil and gas industry representatives whom he had previously represented to discuss matters before Interior in which the industry representatives had a financial stake. A story by the Associated Press just last week, based on records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, indicate that Mr. Griles also participated in department meetings to discuss oil and gas leases in which his previous clients had an interest. These reports raise numerous questions about Mr. Griles’ compliance with agreements he signed to recuse himself from department issues involving his previous clients. One of these agreements was entered into in connection with his confirmation by the U.S. Senate. Such reports raise questions about the adequacy of DOI efforts to insure full compliance with recusal requirements designed to insure impartiality in decision making by DOI officials. While it is the Deputy Secretary who has been in the news, there are other DOI officials subject to recusal requirements as well. Accordingly, this is to request that you undertake an examination to assess the adequacy of DOI’s processes for insuring compliance by high ranking officials with recusal requirements, with particular attention to the role of DOI’s ethics office. I ask that this examination include, but not be limited to, the following questions: 1) Who is responsible for insuring compliance with recusal agreements?
2) What is the process for identifying activities subject to a recusal agreement and in which an individual should not participate? At what stage does this occur? What process applies to activities which are not specifically subject to the terms of an agreement, but from which an official should be recused?
3) How is compliance with the terms of a recusal agreement or statement monitored? When violations are noted, what action is taken and by whom?
4) How are such agreements treated and implemented with regard to the role of individuals such as confidential assistants, deputies, or other individuals acting on behalf of (or appearing to act on behalf of) an official who is recused?
5) What is the role of DOI’s ethics office in these matters? To whom does the office report? Does it have adequate authority and staff to fulfill its responsibilities? What is the status of funding of this office?
6) When allegations are made by employees or outside parties regarding violations, how are they treated?
In addition to addressing these questions about DOI practices and processes generally, given the extensive coverage and in order to assure the public that correct procedures have been put in place and followed, I am requesting that you specifically investigate the allegations regarding the Deputy Secretary and assess the adequacy of his compliance with and the monitoring of his recusal agreements. Your investigation should include, but not be limited to, an assessment of the role of the Department’s ethics office, individuals on the Deputy Secretary’s staff, and lawyers from the Department’s Office of the Solicitor. News reports suggest that DOI’s lawyers were satisfied with the actions taken by the Deputy Secretary. Is this the case, and if so, why were they satisfied? What was the nature and extent of their investigation into the matter? How did they address any potential conflicts arising from what appear to have been their dual role as legal advisors to the Secretary and her deputies and apparent overseer of compliance with recusal agreements? Thank you for your attention to this important issue. I would appreciate receiving your report on the matter by May 5, 2003. If that is not possible, please provide me with an interim report by that date. Please contact Ms. Kathryn Seddon of the Committee’s Minority Staff at (202) 228-3034 if you have any questions regarding this request.
Joseph I. Lieberman