11-30 Back to the Teapot Dome Days at Interior
SANTA FE -- A recent column, describing the effort by National Park Service top brass to relax preservation standards while encouraging recreation and commercial use of our parks, has produced a storm of responses.
I was anonymously sent a letter to employees from the federal deputy director's office assuring them that the proposed new management policies had been totally misinterpreted by Congress, the media and Park Service retirees.
The new policies likely had been "misinterpreted" by employees also, but a loyalty oath imposed by the Interior Department makes disagreeing with management quite dangerous. At the least, it will make it impossible to move into upper management levels without signing the oath and abiding by it.
But NPS retirees don't have to sign loyalty oaths. They say it is the deputy director's letter that misinterprets the new policies because the reassurances in the letter don't appear in the policies.
Retirees say many changes are being made. They talk about the obvious, such as signs in national parks, extolling the wonderment of what God hath wrought and attributing the Grand Canyon to Noah's flood.
And they talk about the less obvious, such as granting Indian casino licenses in return for huge contributions to Interior Secretary Gale Norton's favorite charity, the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, which she created before heading to Washington. I'm not very green, but even I understand that environmental advocacy is not what that organization does.
The scamming of Indian tribes is now coming more into the open. It is the subject of Sen. John McCain's current Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearings. Two of the tribes mentioned in McCain's hearings are Sandia Pueblo on the northern outskirts of Albuquerque and the Tigua tribe, of El Paso, Texas.
Senate committee members called the activities they uncovered unbelievable, disgusting and perhaps criminal. Apparently some of those activities were criminal because one of the top lobbyists in the investigation has since pleaded guilty to conspiring to bribe government officials and defraud Indian casinos out of millions of dollars in fees.
These fees were used for lavish entertaining, including fancy golf trips to St, Andrews, Scotland. The scope of activities federal officials feel they are uncovering leads them to believe this is the first great scandal of the 21st century, on a scale that will make the Bobby Baker influence peddling of the Lyndon Johnson era look like a third-rate burglary.
The first member of Congress to lose his job, when indictments come down, is expected to be Rep. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican, often called the Mayor of Capitol Hill because of all the lavish entertaining heaped on him.
The top lobbyist, who has pleaded guilty, is Michael Scanlon, a partner of lobbying kingpin Jack Abramoff, an extraordinarily well-connected super lobbyist, whose activities already have resulted in a Florida bank fraud indictment. Scanlon was an aide to former house GOP leader Tom Delay, of Texas.
According to news reports, Sandia casino paid out some $2.7 million to these lobbyists before Pueblo Gov. Stuwart Paisano decided they weren't receiving much for their money.
The Tigua story is even sadder. Evidently because of Abramoff maneuverings, the Tiguas lost their casino and then paid handsomely to get it reopened, only to have the new deal fall through.
Of course there is nothing new about the federal government stealing from the Indians. It has happened ever since Europeans hit these shores. And one of the saddest chapters has been the disappearance of royalties due to tribes banished to barren lands long before anyone knew they had oil and gas under them. No administration has been willing to get to the bottom of that.
Other Interior Department atrocities have been of more recent vintage. The Mining Act swindles are on the increase. New proposals would permit steering vast tracts of public lands surrounding mining areas into private hands at a fraction of the value. And a casino near Gettysburg battlefield appears a possibility.
The Interior Department offers many opportunities for fraud. This administration is finding more than its share.