Watchdog group blasts U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
September 11, 2017
• Points to audits showing more than $100 Million misused
• “Even massive misappropriation means never having to say you are sorry”
Three recent federal investigations have found the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation misspending more than $100 million in funds but the agency has not committed to significant reforms nor to punishing any responsible officials, charges the environmental watchdog organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
The latest audit, last week (please see “Governor's Delta tunnels scheme sees $50 Million in federal funds misspent “ CVBT, September 8) identified improper Bureau of Reclamation payments to the state of California for the governor's controversial Delta tunnels project. Despite this finding, the Bureau has no stated plans to recover even a penny, PEER notes.
This is just the most recent scathing report on Reclamation misappropriations, PEER notes.
In late August, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel concluded that Reclamation illegally gave $32 million to Klamath irrigators, again misusing funds earmarked for protecting fish and wildlife. This ruling validated an earlier IG report confirming whistleblower disclosures. In October 2016, the IG found that Reclamation never collected “repayment of millions of dollars of costs incurred to design, construct, and operate and maintain new head gates and fish screens” within the Klamath Project. The gates and screens are supposed to keep federally protected fish “in the river and out of the Klamath project irrigation canals.”
“At Reclamation, even massive misappropriation means never having to say you are sorry,” says PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting that all three cases arose out of one Reclamation office – the Mid-Pacific Region. “Reclamation’s posture of denying wrongdoing but promising not to do it again merely suggests it will seek out other shady ruses rather than genuinely reform its grant process.”
PEER has been pressing both Reclamation’s parent agency, the Department of Interior, as well as the U.S. Congress to step in, but so far there has been no action, it says.
The group says it also proposed a series of reforms to prevent future lapses in Reclamation financial agreements but these issues were not even raised during the pending nomination of Brenda Burman to serve as the next Commissioner of Reclamation.
“As long as Reclamation suffers no consequences for repeated, blatant misconduct to the detriment of both the taxpayer and its mission, nothing will change,” says Ms. Dinerstein. “We are frustrated that the relevant Congressional committees are also shirking their responsibilities. Unfortunately in the current Congress, oversight seems to be synonymous with overlook.”