Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The IG's 2004 report to Kerry re Northwest water policy

Following up:

Here's the (apparently) complete text of the Interior Dept.'s IG 2004 report, at the request of Senator (and then presidential candidate) John Kerry, into the decision-making by the Interior Department behind releasing Klamath Basin water, needed by protected Coho salmon, for irrigation on local farms:

March 1, 2004

The Honorable John F. Kerry
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510-2102

Dear Senator Kerry:

This is in response to your August 6, 2003 letter in which you requested that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) conduct an investigation into the Department’s management of water resources in the Klamath Basin. You directed our attention to a July 30, 2003 article in the Wall Street Journal entitled, “Oregon Water Saga Illuminates Rove’s Methods with Agencies” and called into question the Interior Department’s ability to meet its legal responsibilities in the Klamath Basin.

In your letter, you aptly observe that “[c]ommercial fishermen, Native Americans, irrigators, conservationists and federal officials have been engaged in a contentious regulatory proceeding over water management in the Klamath Basin that dates back several years.” Clearly, the management of the water resources in the Klamath River Basin Project by the Department of the Interior has been fraught with criticism and contention from all sides, two of which are within the Department of the Interior itself. The concerns you advanced based on the issues raised in the Wall Street Journal article, as well as those raised in other venues, made the Klamath matter ripe for investigation by the OIG.

As outlined in my letter to you dated August 28, 2003, the OIG focused its investigation on three areas:

1. What would be the normal regulatory process in a matter such as this, assuming that this was an Administrative Procedures Act-governed regulatory matter.

2. What actually did happen in the administrative process in the Klamath Basin matter.

3. How the Klamath Basin matter deviated from the norm (if at all) with special attention being paid to:

a. The science
b. Any suppressed information
c. Any evidence of political interference

In conducting our investigation, we interviewed all of the key individuals – some of them several times – who were involved with the Klamath River Basin Project. These individuals represent all aspects of involvement in the Klamath Project – from staff-level employees of the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) to the highest-level decision makers within the Department; the independent scientists charged with reviewing competing reports and information; and the government scientist who filed for Whistleblower protection with the Office of Special Counsel. We reviewed hundreds of documents, including the documents contained in the Administrative Record supporting BOR’s final decision regarding the Klamath Project’s Operations, as well as documents filed with the United States District Court for the Northern District of California where suit had been filed challenging BOR’s decision-making process.

As a result of our investigation, we found fiercely competing interests among the Klamath Tribes, irrigators, fishermen, environmentalists and even among opposing Federal officials relating to the use and/or conservation of limited water resources in the Klamath Project. We also found that these interests have highly charged differences of opinion concerning what constitutes the best scientific and commercial data available, how the Project should be operated, and how to accommodate specific, diverse and competing interests. Unfortunately, when the competing interests are mutually exclusive of one another – as in the Klamath matter – accommodation becomes impracticable.

We determined that the administrative process followed in this matter did not deviate from the norm. Our review of the available documents and the rulings of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California support the conclusion that the Department had compiled the necessary information to support its various decisions related to the Klamath Project.

None of the individuals we interviewed – including the Whistleblower – was able to provide any competent evidence that the Department utilized suspect scientific data or suppressed information that was contained in economic and scientific reports related to the Klamath Project. To the contrary, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences in its Final Report, issued October 2003, specifically disagrees with the criticism that had been directed against the Federal agencies for using “junk science”. This position is bolstered by the findings of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, which concluded that in light of the conflicting state of scientific evidence, the decisions were based on the best available science at the time.

Finally, we found no evidence of political influence affecting the decisions pertaining to the water in the Klamath Project. The individuals at the working-levels denied feeling pressured at all. Based on our experience in past OIG investigations, these would have been the most likely sources to provide evidence of such influence. Higher-level decision makers, both political and career, also denied feeling any political pressure to render a decision one way or another. Collectively, these decision makers described a process of thorough and thoughtful consideration of all the competing interests and requirements, although frustrated by the fact that certain interests and requirements were mutually exclusive. The consistent denial of political influence by government officials was corroborated by the view of the outside scientists and one former DOI official, all of whom denied feeling any pressure – political or otherwise.

While we confirmed a passing reference to the Klamath River Basin Project during an otherwise-unrelated presentation to senior Interior officials, we found nothing to tie Karl Rove’s comments or presentation to the Klamath decision-making process. The former DOI official, who had spoken to the Wall Street Journal about Rove’s presentation, clarified to our investigators that his use of the term “chilling effect” was not related to the Klamath Project. Of the multiple DOI officials we interviewed who attended the presentation, only one person specifically recalled the context in which Rove mentioned Klamath. This official recalled that Rove merely cited Klamath as an example of the complex problems the Department had to deal with.

The complexity of the issues involved and the ferocity of the debate clearly fueled the flames of suspicion and distrust in this matter. Based on the results of our investigation, however, we conclude that the Department conducted itself in keeping with the administrative process governing the Klamath Project, that the science and information utilized supported the Department’s decisions, and that no political pressure was perceived by any of the key participants.

I hope this information puts to rest your concerns. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call me at (202) 208-5745.


Earl E. Devaney Inspector General

United States Department of the Interior
Washington, DC 20240

At a whopping 1064 words, this could easily be mistaken for the cover letter to an actual report, but carrying the tiny thing over to the light we discover that this is, in fact, the complete works.

(Actually, it appears that if you request an investigation from the IG and, in his judgment, he comes up with nothing, you get a brief, detail-free letter like this, but if there appears to be something potentially actionable--if, say, it looks like the owner of the Washington Redskins is cutting down trees he shouldn't be--you get more specifics, although sometimes more redactions, too.)

You'll notice this report is conspicuously short on proper nouns--like names. Rove's name is mentioned in passing, but there's also no indication that anyone at the White House was contacted directly in connection with this (although we know that both Gordon Smith and Greg Walden contacted the White House about it at the time).

Many questions here: What to make of the competing science claims upon which the final DOI decision was (and wasn't) based? How diligently did the IG look into "evidence of political interference?

But I'm still curious about this: There's considerable evidence now indicating that by 2002 Karl Rove was happily throwing compliance with the 1939 Hatch Act (its full name, by the way, is "An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities," and now you know why)* under the train.

But how aware was Smith that Rove was blurring of the political/civil service lines here in Oregon as he was running for re-election?

(Hat tip to TJ for helping bag this. The boy does love his work.)

*And yes, that would be the same Hatch Act that fuming Clinton- and Gore-phobes pointed to in 1996 in that flap about Gore using White House phones for making donor calls.

Where's the outrage now, guys?


Anonymous said...

This is so important - we MUST NOT let these b______ds get away with it.

We're building the record here in the blogs.

Then we're going to take it to the public come election time.

Anonymous said...

What the F__K is Rove doing showing POLLING DATA to INTERIOR DEPT. managers on govt time on govt property?

HOW DARE THEY try to get away with this S__T.

Nothstine said...

Hey there, Anonymous--

You're right--if what looks like it's going on is what is what's going on, it needs to be stopped. and the blog-o-sphere, undisciplined as it is, is one of the forces that can bring it to light and force coverage of it.

Keep watching.