Congressman calls for resignation of top Interior Department officials

Congressman calls for resignation of top Interior Department officials
February 1, 2000

U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer (R-Colorado) has called for the resignation of two Interior Department officials for their failure to remove U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) employees guilty of misappropriating millions of dollars intended for states’ use for wildlife management.

Schaffer’s demand came during a House Resources Committee oversight hearing into FWS mismanagement of federal funds collected through excise taxes on items used in fishing, hunting, and other outdoor recreation.

Schaffer seeks the resignations of FWS Director Jamie Rappaport Clark and Assistant Interior Secretary Donald Barry, both of whom testified before the Committee. The two said no disciplinary action had been taken against employees responsible for the misappropriation of funds. No efforts have been made to account for or restore the misspent funds.

“This all comes down to accountability,” Schaffer said. “Not only have we exposed malfeasant management practices, but the actions of the Fish and Wildlife Service are probably illegal. If Director Clark and Assistant Secretary Barry cannot, or will not, remove those immediately responsible for these wrongdoings, then the responsibility falls upon them and they should resign.”

U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth-Hage (R-Idaho), chairman of the Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, agreed that Clark and Barry should resign if the mismanagement and illegal spending of the federal aid funds are allowed to continue.

As reported in the January issue of Environment News, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) recently issued findings from an investigation that uncovered far-reaching mismanagement and misappropriation of the Pittman-Robertson (PR) and Dingell-Johnston (DJ) funds. The funds, which come from excise taxes collected on fishing and hunting equipment and other outdoor recreation supplies, are to be returned to the states to promote wildlife and fisheries management, respectively.

Among other things, the GAO found that millions of dollars could not be accounted for by agency officials, and some of the funds that were identified had been used for unjustified and unauthorized purposes. Of $30 million in administrative funds for fiscal year 1998, GAO estimates at least $15 million was misspent.

After receiving numerous vague answers to detailed questions about the allegations of illegal and wasteful spending, the House Resources Committee subpoenaed Barry to appear and answer questions about unexplained travel expenses, relocation expenses, and other projects allegedly paid for by fish and wildlife funds. Jamie Rappaport Clark, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the federal aid program funded by the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnston Acts, also appeared.

Among the questions Clark and Barry could not answer were:

  • Why were more than $27.7 million in leftover administrative funds from 1992 through 1998 retained by the agency when, under law, the excess fund should have been returned to the states for their conservation programs?
  • Who authorized over $600,000 in bonuses to be paid from the funds--some to non-federal aid employees?
  • Who authorized foreign trips to Japan and Brazil by a federal aid employee?
  • Why was $210,553 paid to “International Affairs-People’s Republic of China”?

“Committee investigators and GAO have uncovered more than $45 million that was collected from hunters and fishermen that was misappropriated by Interior,” said Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), chairman of the House Resources Committee. Young added, “After an eight-month investigation, the GAO reported that millions of dollars in program funds still could not be found in the Federal Aid program.”

What was found was an e-mail from the head of the Information Resources Management Division, William Brooks, who stated he would provide funding for a particular project from his “slush fund.” When questioned about the matter, Clark had no answer.

When queried about the $1 million Director’s Conservation Fund, funded with PR/DJ funds, Barry said the “language in the PR/DJ bill was so broad as to allow this.” Rep. Richard Pombo (R-California) indicated the committee would draft “legislation that will guarantee this never happens again.”