Ken Salazar's shakeup at Interior: Where will it all end?

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil slick disaster, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is barreling ahead in his efforts to reform the embattled Minerals Management Service, the once-obscure agency responsible for overseeing offshore drilling.

Yesterday's announcement that Salazar is splitting MMS into not two, but three separate entities is an acknowledgment of the deeply contradictory mission of the organization, which is charged with collecting royalties from energy companies leasing federal lands and offshore waters and protecting those resources from reckless exploitation at the same time.

So instead of MMS, we'll now have a Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and an Office of Natural Resources Revenue -- a not terribly harmonic trio (BOEM, BSEE, ONRR!), and not all reporting to the same boss, either.

But, as I first suggested in this post last week, why stop there?

After all, Interior is full of fiefdoms with conflicting agendas and schizoid personalities. The basic contradiction of protecting public lands and resources while developing them has been built into the place since its inception. The Clinton administration tried to reconcile all the competing interests under a bland notion of multi-use; the Bushies used the smokescreen term "balance" to justify ignoring science and pushing development at all costs, on the theory that the environmental movement had somehow held their predecessors hostage.

Now the Obama folks, with Salazar in the lead, seem determined to "reform" Interior by compartmentalizing it into a slew of sub-agencies, like so many Russian nesting dolls. So it may be time to tackle a few of the other confused bureaucracies the Secretary would like to fix.

Take, for instance, the Bureau of Land Management. There's at least three new agencies waiting to be birthed out of this unholy mess, which currently rides herd on 256 million acres -- forty percent of all the land managed by the federal government. Time for:

  • The Bureau of Grazing and Wild Horse Extinction: Responsible for vigorously defending private industry's rights to low-cost rangelands for burger meat while zeroing out pesky herds of undomesticated mustangs that nobody other than a Belgian really wants to eat.
  • The Bureau of Drill, Baby, Drill: Charged with maximizing oil and gas leases across the West, especially in now-roadless areas.
  • The Bureau of Pristine Wilderness: Hears appeals from hikers, tree-huggers, fresh-air nuts, ungulates and talking plants regarding the adverse consequences of decisions made by BGWHE and BDBD.

Over at the Fish and Wildlife Service, the at-odds functions could be neatly bifurcated. Not a split between fish and wildlife, which often find themselves on the same side of the issue, but between the Office of Science-Based Policy, which would make decisions about species management based on sound research, and the Office of Politics-Based Policy, which would set about gutting the Endangered Species Act unfettered by any fancy science talk whatsoever.

Similarly, the National Parks Service could be divided into the Outdoor Convenience Service, a faith-based initiative intent on providing more paved trails, free parking lots, heated toilets and concession stands throughout the park system, and the Elite Wilderness Corps, a special hush-hush unit bent on denying access to backcountry holdings to anyone not sporting a current REI membership.

As for the Bureau of Indian Affairs -- well, that's a tough one. The most consistent of all DOI's agencies in its relentless history of corruption and incompetence, it probably needs to be abolished altogether, replaced by a Bureau of Non-Indian Affairs, which would set up a trust fund for non-Indians... and then plunder it for the benefit of Native Americans across the fruited plain.

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