Energy & Environment

Six Interior officials under ethics investigation

The Interior Department's top watchdog is investigating six agency officials for potential ethics violations

The Interior Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has launched a probe into the half-dozen high-ranking agency officials for continued close ties to former employers, including an energy company and the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The investigation follows a February request from the Campaign Legal Centera political action group, to investigate the various Interior staffers for failing to adhere to their government ethics pledge.

Under the pledge, the employees agreed to refrain from matters involving former employers or clients. Full-time political appointees cannot participate for two years in matters linked to their former positions. The pledge is considered enforceable under the law.

"Several political appointees at Interior appear to have violated these provisions, which are specifically designed to prevent public officials from using their positions to favor former employers or lobbying clients," the Campaign Legal Center wrote.

"Taken together, the violations outlined below suggest a disturbing pattern of misconduct across the Department of the Interior that warrants your office's immediate attention."

The legal center announced Tuesday that the OIG committed last week to investigate the employees.

An OIG spokesperson confirmed the ongoing investigation.

A spokesperson for the Interior Department said, "as a general rule, we do not comment on specific personnel matters."

"The Department takes ethics issues seriously. The Office of the Secretary immediately consulted with the Department Ethics Office after receiving the subject complaints. Ethics reviewed each matter, and provided materials to the Chief of Staff, who has taken appropriate actions. All of these materials have been provided to the Inspector General."

Employees under investigation include Doug Domenech, assistant secretary for insular and international affairs and the former director for the Fueling Freedom Project at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Benjamin Cassidy, Interior's senior deputy director for intergovernmental and external affairs, who previously was a NRA lobbyist.

The investigation into the Interior senior officials come as newly confirmed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt continues to face various ethics questions about his ties to former clients and decisions he's made while serving as deputy secretary and acting secretary at the agency.

Bernhardt, a former energy lobbyist, maintains he has gone to great lengths to maintain his ethics pledge.

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