Watchdog group Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) has filed an ethics complaint into possible wrongdoing at the Department of the Interior, alleging that a senior official may have improperly influenced policy to the benefit of her past employer.
PPT alleged to the inspector general that Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Laura Daniel-Davis may have authorized shifts in DOI policy to comply with demands her former employer, the National Wildlife Federation (NWF), had brought in a suit against the agency over oil and gas extraction operations in Alaska.
“Based upon documents PPT obtained from a whistleblower and Freedom of Information Act request, Ms. Daniel-Davis’ involvement in the issue may have crossed the line into personal and substantial involvement in a particular matter involving her former employer,” the watchdog stated. “Within six months at Interior, Ms. Daniel-Davis had exercised her official authority to achieve practically all of the legal remedies sought by her former employer in court.”
The complaint points specifically to the suspension of nine leases issued under the Coastal Plains program, a controversial energy project at the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge.
“Even worse, the legal arguments she relied on to do so were strikingly similar to those developed for and included in her former employer’s legal filings,” it went on. “Subsequently, the parties to the litigation cited Ms. Daniel-Davis’ actions as one of the reasons to respectively support or take no position on the Department’s request for a stay in the lawsuit. Neither of these documents nor any others available to the public indicate Ms. Daniel-Davis received authorization to participate in this matter from a designated agency ethics official.”
“On an issue that has been such a huge magnet for controversy, one would think the Department of the Interior would want to make sure that all the t’s were crossed and the i’s dotted,” PPT Director Michael Chamberlain said, per a press release from the watchdog.
“But, as evidenced by the recent IG report revealing an ethics violation by one of the Department’s top leadership as well as the potential missteps PPT has uncovered, adherence to ethics obligations does not appear to be at the top of the priority list at Secretary Haaland’s Department,” he continued. “It’s little wonder the American public’s trust in government is at an all-time low.”