Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) official Stephen Barton stole $96,000 from taxpayers, deceived supervisors about his position with a lobbying group, and lied about his residency to get a higher salary, a congressional subcommittee was told Thursday.
Barton’s case was among multiple examples highlighted by a House Committee on Natural Resources subcommittee in which Department of the Interior employees broke laws or federal ethics rules but didn’t face prosecution.
“A month ago, this committee examined misconduct of [DOI] officials,” Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Louie Gohmert said at the hearing. “Since that hearing, more reports of unethical and illegal acts have been released.” Department of Justice officials declined to prosecute the cases.
Those new cases include Barton, a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) lab that consistently manipulated data; Office of the Secretary official Fay Iudicello, who gave hiring preferences to a relative over disabled veterans; Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey, who tried manipulating a sale of 480 acres of government land for personal gain; and numerous sexual harassment cases.
Barton was paid a higher salary after claiming to live in the Washington, D.C. metro area, even though he actually lived in Idaho. He also took per diem paychecks for his expenses on weekends at home.
“Mr. Barton billed taxpayers $96,000 for traveling between the two locations,” Gohmert told the panel. DOI’s Inspector General (IG) “found that Mr. Barton failed to disclose that he was earning an income – totaling nearly $400,000 – while he served as treasurer of an association that receives grants from and is audited by the Fish and Wildlife Service.” (RELATED: Feds Won’t Prosecute Gov’t Employee Quietly Taking Money From A Lobbying Group)
FWS Deputy Director Steve Guertin told the panel that it causes “an appearance of a conflict of interest,” saying officials were aware that Barton held the position but thought he was a volunteer. “Mr. Barton lied and deceived all of us. This clever guy was able to manipulate both personnel and systems,” Guertin said.
Also, a USGS lab frequently manipulated its energy-related data used for numerous entities possibly as far back as 1996, the IG found.
“The full impact and scope of this falsified data is unknown, but it is sure to be far reaching and serious,” Gohmert said.
The IG also revealed an official in the DOI Office of the Secretary manipulated hiring practices.
“And yesterday, we were informed that Fay Iudicello … egregiously violated hiring regulations on multiple occasions in order to secure a job for her family member,” Gohmert said. “And not only that, but in the process, she also instructed her subordinates to eliminate qualified veterans from the pool because she did not want to have a disabled veteran on staff.”
Iudicello retired in January, allowing her to receive benefits and skirt punishment.
“Once she is retired, the department is very limited in what they can do,” Deputy IG Mary Kendall said.
Also, rampant sexual harassment was found at numerous national parks, and the IG is still investigating more cases.
“Perhaps these serious issues should not be a surprise when such matters have been referred to a National Parks Service (NPS) director who is incapable of following ethics guidelines himself,” Gohmert said.
The subcommittee’s May hearing highlighted additional sexual harassment cases, and several DOI officials who were rewarded, rather than punished for their bad behavior, including NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis. Jarvis knowingly skirted his agency’s ethics office, lied to the DOI secretary, and misled investigators about a book he published with a national parks vendor. (RELATED: Park Service Execs Commit Ethical Misconduct, Get ‘Punished’ With Promotions)
Jarvis has since issued an apology to NPS, but DOI’s watchdog found it insincere.
“It suggested that he was sorry that it happened … but he said he would do it again if it came to that,” Kendall said, referring to Jarvis’ statement to investigators that he’d still avoid the ethics office and write the book if he had a chance at a do-over.
Editor’s Note: Stephen Barton is not related to DCNF Investigative Reporter Ethan Barton.
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