WASHINGTON – Governmental Affairs Committee Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Thursday protested Interior Secretary Gail Norton’s failure to act on a report detailing ethically questionable actions by her top lieutenant, Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles. In a letter to Norton, Lieberman registered his disappointment that – despite the results of a factual investigation by Interior’s Inspector General and a suggestion by the Office of Government Ethics that Griles may have violated ethics rules – she had decided to close the case without further review or action.
“This response cannot help but send a very unfortunate message to the Department’s tens of thousands of employees about the standards to which the Department’s high level political appointees are held,” Lieberman wrote. The IG investigation indicated that, Griles, a former lobbyist for oil and gas companies, appeared to use his official position to help his former business partner; sought to influence an Environmental Protection Agency action on an issue of interest to his former clients and his former partner’s current client; and that his staff improperly offered assistance to a former Griles’ client and current client of his former partner. The report also found that Interior’s own program of oversight of employee ethics was lacking. Lieberman said Norton’s response to these findings failed to address: • Specific requests by both Lieberman and OGE to determine whether Griles violated ethics rules with respect to a dinner he asked his former business partner to host at his own home for top level department officials. Many of the former business partner’s clients had business before the Department. • Whether Norton would reconsider Griles’ decision to intrude in an EPA matter that affected his former clients and his former partner’s current clients – in light of significant information in the IG’s report and OGE’s determination that it would have advised Griles not to intrude in the action. • Whether Norton would review the conduct of those involved in improper procurement practices revealed by the IG, especially concerning high-level aid provided to one company seeking government contracts. Lieberman said the IG report, made public March 16th, painted a “disturbing picture of repeated questionable conduct” on the part of a high-ranking public official. In a letter to Norton that day, Lieberman asked the Secretary to exercise her responsibility to assess the facts in the report and take appropriate disciplinary or corrective action. Her response, received by Lieberman on April 5th, failed to do so. The April 29th letter seeks additional information on Norton’s follow-up to the IG report. “Instead of initiating a detailed review of the IG’s 145-page report and making the specific determinations OGE said were warranted…. you issued a press release within hours of receiving the IG report declaring Mr. Griles ‘cleared,’” Lieberman wrote. “But even a cursory reading of the IG report and the OGE letter lays to rest any suggestion that either of those documents ‘cleared’ Mr. Griles.” Before taking office, Griles was a consultant for a number of oil and gas companies with high-stake financial interests before the Interior Department. He signed at least three documents agreeing to excuse himself from department business that involved his former clients and the current clients of his former business partner, from whom he currently receives annual payments of $284,000. The following is a link to the letter: