A Bush administration official who has been abusing the scientific and regulatory process in her role at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service may, possibly, be reined in. The Washington Post reported yesterday (link via Carpetbagger Report):
A senior Bush political appointee at the Interior Department has repeatedly altered scientific field reports to minimize protections for imperiled species and disclosed confidential information to private groups seeking to affect policy decisions, the department's inspector general concluded.
The investigator's report on Julie A. MacDonald, deputy assistant secretary for fish and wildlife and parks -- which was triggered by an anonymous complaint from a Fish and Wildlife Service employee and expanded in October after a Washington Post article about MacDonald -- said she frequently sought to reshape the agency's scientific reports in an effort to ease the impact of agency decisions on private landowners.
Inspector General Earl E. Devaney referred the case to Interior's top officials for "potential administrative action," according to the document, which was reported yesterday in the New York Times.
The IG noted that MacDonald "admitted that her degree is in civil engineering and that she has no formal educational background in natural sciences" but repeatedly instructed Fish and Wildlife scientists to change their recommendations on identifying "critical habitats," despite her lack of expertise.
At one point, according to Fish and Wildlife Service Director H. Dale Hall, MacDonald tangled with field personnel over designating habitat for the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher, a bird whose range is from Arizona to New Mexico and Southern California. When scientists wrote that the bird had a "nesting range" of 2.1 miles, MacDonald told field personnel to change the number to 1.8 miles. Hall, a wildlife biologist who told the IG he had had a "running battle" with MacDonald, said she did not want the range to extend to California because her husband had a family ranch there.
MacDonald has been up to these tricks for years. Back in the early days of this blog, in December 2004 (almost two and a half years ago!), I pointed to a New York Times article about MacDonald interfering with scientific reports on a threatened species, the sage grouse. Most galling to me at the time were her comments that reports from scientific experts should be treated as just another industry publication.
Will this inspector general's report finally help to end the abuse by this one particular person? The Bushies do not change their ways easily, so even if she is forced out, her replacement will likely be much the same.