Politics

Park Service Execs Commit Ethical Misconduct, Get ‘Punished’ With Promotions

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Ethan Barton Managing Editor

Grand Canyon National Park’s top administrator was offered a promotion to a cushy Washington job soon after an investigation revealed a culture of sexual harassment had plagued the famous Arizona site’s staff for 15 years.

That’s just one of many examples of Department of the Interior (DOI) employee misconduct that was “punished” with promotions and highlighted during a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

“The appearance of rewarding bad behavior is not the desired outcome, nor a proper deterrent,” Deputy DOI Inspector General (IG) Mary Kendall told the panel. “DOI does not do well in holding accountable those employees who violate laws, rules and regulations.”

David Uberuaga was promoted to Grand Canyon superintendent after heading Mount Rainier National Park where an official investigation revealed he “sold his home at an inflated price to a park concessioner,” Rep. [crscore]Raul Labrador[/crscore] said during the hearing.

At Grand Canyon, Uberuaga allowed a culture of sexual harassment, DOI’s Inspector General (IG) recently found. (RELATED: Park Service Perverts Groped Female Colleagues, Got Wrist Slaps)

Uberuaga retired in lieu of the promotion to the nation’s capital, which was offered by National Park Service (NPS) Director Jonathan Jarvis, who also approved Uberuaga’s Grand Canyon promotion.

Meanwhile, Jarvis admitted to the IG that he’s “gotten my ass in trouble many, many, many times in the Park Service.”

Jarvis was also a violator of DOI ethics standards after using his official position to obtain a book deal that included use of the NPS logo and was marketed in NPS stores, the IG recently revealed.

“He told our investigations he intentionally chose not to consult the ethics office because he was afraid it would either slow down or thwart his efforts to write the book,” Kendall told the panel.

Jarvis even “lied to the [DOI] secretary about it,” Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman [crscore]Louie Gohmert[/crscore] said, showing a hand written-note from the director to DOI Secretary Sally Jewell. Gohmert is a Texas Republican.

Labrador, an Idaho Republican, described numerous other incidents involving Jarvis.

“Astonishingly, in 2009, Director Jarvis himself circulated a memo detailing his expectation that NPS employees maintain the highest ethical standard,” according to a subcommittee hearing document.

Jarvis was punished for writing his book with a letter of reprimand, monthly consultations with an ethics official and was stripped of responsibility for managing employee ethics in the Park Service.

“Most folks are excited to get rid” of the “thankless job” of ethics management, Gohmert said.

“Blatant ethical violations by the NPS director, made worse by his admission that he intentionally avoided seeking ethics guidance, conveys the message to employees that ethics rules are not important, perhaps even optional,” Kendall said.

The hearing highlighted other cases of misconduct by DOI managers that resulted in minimal punishment, or even promotions, and even more were exposed in IG reports.

“Ethical misconduct … has been treated with a lack of accountability,” Gohmert said. DOI has “fostered a culture in which serious violations” are unpunished. (RELATED: Porn, Prostitution And Bribes: 8 Times The DOJ Let Bad Bureaucrats Off The Hook)

Kendall noted that no one was fired for misconduct.

Yellowstone National Park Chief Ranger Timothy Reid, for example, hadn’t lived on park property in his NPS apartment as required since he obtained his position, and his wife even used it to support his family’s bed and breakfast, an IG investigation found.

Reid was later promoted to Devils Tower National Monument superintendent.

Additionally, Bureau of Indian Education Director of Education Charles “Monty” Roessel – who oversees schooling for around 47,000 Native American students – used his position to hire his lover and a relative, another IG report found.

“Mr. Roessel’s conduct is certainly not the kind of example we want to set for these kids,” Gohmert said.

But DOI issues don’t stop with misconduct. Kendall highlighted how the agency has deterred employees from reporting internal violations.

“There is a pervasive perception by many employees in some bureaus that contacting the [IG] to report wrongdoing places them in jeopardy of retaliation,” the IG told the panel. “We often learn that management takes more effort to identify the source of a complaint than to explore whether the complaint has merit.”

“In some instances, efforts have been made to restrict the ability of employees to contact us,” Kendall continued.

Additionally, Rep. [crscore]Jody Hice[/crscore], a Georgia Republican, pointed to DOI obstruction of Freedom of Information Act requests.

The subcommittee’s lead Democrat, Rep. Lacy Clay, argued that DOI managers’ misconduct overshadows most employees’ good work, citing major ethics violations that occurred under the Bush administration.

The Missouri Democrat said the hearing’s title, “Oversight Hearing on Investigating the Culture of Corruption at the Department of the Interior,” is reminiscent of an episode of a Maury Povich show.

Clay did, however, admit that the cases the subcommittee highlighted “are even more inexcusable since they are high ranking officials. They should set an example for the people working under them and for the American people that they serve.”

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