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Conflicts of Interest Appear Rampant Within the Interior Department

Statement of Craig Holman, Government Affairs Lobbyist, Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division

Note: The U.S. Department of Interior Inspector General’s office on Tuesday released an investigative report finding that Assistant Secretary for Insular and International Affairs Douglas Domenech violated the conflict of interest rule 5 CFR §2635.502 that prohibits public officials from participating for one year in particular matters that involve their former employers. The finding arises from an ethics complaint filed by the Campaign Legal Center last February.

The Trump administration, and the Department of Interior in particular, are plagued with a continual parade of conflicts of interest with senior officials – and ethics officers for the most part have turned a blind eye.

Public Citizen has filed dozens of ethics complaints across all agencies of the Trump administration over the past two years, only to have the complaints ignored by the administration. In the Interior Department alone, we have asked ethics officials to investigate likely violations of conflicts of interest of former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke for accepting gifts from those with business pending before the agency; current Interior Secretary David Bernhardt for getting involved in the same issues he lobbied on as a hired-gun lobbyist; and Interior Assistant Daniel Fisher for potentially violating Trump’s own ethics pledge. The designated agency ethics officers have not acted on any of these complaints.

Refreshingly, we now see a separate ethics agency, the Interior’s Inspector General’s office, finding that Interior Assistant Secretary Doug Domenech violated conflicts of interest rules by accepting meetings with his former employer that could influence official actions by the agency. It is way past time that other ethics officials step up and do their jobs.

The finding by the inspector general still requires the administration to take official actions to enforce the ethics rules, but the record of the Trump administration enforcing its own ethics rules raises little hope.