Beneath the Rough Exterior, a Rotten Interior

"Short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior."

That's Earl Devaney, the DOI's inspector general, telling a House of Representatives subcommittee yesterday about the ethical black hole among the bureaucrats who manage one-fifth of all the land in the United States. In damning testimony that hasn't received nearly the attention of, say, a second-string college punter stabbing his rival, Devaney laid out how former Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and her cronies have been giving the shaft to the rest of us — covering up overly generous oil leases for six years that cost the taxpayers as much as $10 billion; ignoring conflicts of interest among former energy lobbyists put in charge of public lands; and opening up the nation's resources for a good old-fashioned pillage.

Devaney says that Norton, who served as Colorado's attorney general before answering the summons to higher service, refused to act on ethical violations by her deputy secretary, J. Steven Griles. But while Griles left the department not long into Bush's first term, the shenanigans continued. For proof, see how one well-connected Wyoming rancher stampeded over Bureau of Land Management rules, with help from those "highest levels," as detailed in "Grazin' Hell," originally published in our April 7, 2005, issue.

To find out what happens to whistleblowers who try to collect oil royalties that Interior brass are loathe to pursue, check out "Duke of Oil," the story of Bobby Maxwell, a government auditor who refused to back down, from September 8, 2005.

Devaney is now bringing similar problems to the attention of Congress and his new boss, Dirk Kempthorne. But is anybody listening? -- Alan Prendergast