Bernhardt Cleared by IG Report As BLM Relocation Proceeds
An investigation of Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt over allegations of interference by the department head found no violation of ethics pledge or other Federal regulations, Interior’s Office of Inspector General announced this week.
Investigators examined Bernhardt’s tenure as Deputy Secretary and allegations he interfered with the scientific process conducted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and whether he exceeded or abused his authority.
“[W]e found no evidence that Secretary Bernhardt exceeded or abused his authority or that his actions influenced or altered the findings of career FWS scientists. We also found no evidence that Secretary Bernhardt’s involvement in this matter violated his ethics pledge or Federal ethics regulations,” the report concluded, noting only that a decision on an opinion of effects from pesticides in the study was delayed temporarily.
Congressional leaders lauded the report’s findings, likening the investigation to a “fantasy” in an attempt to “besmirch dedicated public servants.”
“Contrary to false allegations lodged at David Bernhardt during his Senate confirmation process, the Inspector General has confirmed Secretary Bernhardt never interfered with scientific findings,” said U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah). “Once again, facts have revealed hyper partisanship that has blinded Democrats from focusing on real issues rather than attempting to besmirch dedicated public servants in this Administration. Bernhardt’s years of legal experience and leadership roles within the Department are an asset, and he continues to adhere to strong ethical standards,” he added.
“Today we are reminded that contrary to the fantasies of impropriety dreamed up in the heads of Senators, Secretary David Bernhardt is one of the most dedicated, ethical and effective public servants to serve our nation. It is that effectiveness that gives Senators nightmares and results in them concocting schemes to degrade and insult the hardworking people of this Administration,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.).
The findings come as Bureau of Land Management employees decide this week on whether to move to the recently relocated agency headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado.
BLM plans to relocate 30 officials to Grand Junction by the start of 2020, with others headed to state offices in the west. Bernhardt, who announced the final decision in July after discussions about relocation began in earnest in 2017, defended the decision as the “optimal way” to run the agency in an interview with Western Wire earlier this year, before he made the final announcement on the move.
BLM acting head William Perry Pendley acknowledged difficulties in the move but emphasized the agency’s willingness to work with career employees and to be as transparent as possible with them throughout the process.
With Bernhardt cleared by the IG report, members of Congress said they looked forward to continuing to work as custodians of the nation’s public lands.
“I am glad to see Secretary David Bernhardt, one of our nation’s most stalwart public servants, cleared of the erroneous allegations made during his Senate confirmation process,” said U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) “I look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Bernhardt to preserve and protect our nation’s lands and natural resources,” he added.