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Interior official to be investigated in drilling moratorium

Jul. 9, 2012 - 01:46PM   |  
By GREGORY KORTE, USA TODAY   |   Comments
Interior Department Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall testifies before the House Committee on Natural Resources on Capitol Hill in 2010.
Interior Department Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall testifies before the House Committee on Natural Resources on Capitol Hill in 2010. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

A federal panel that investigates allegations of wrongdoing by inspectors general has agreed to take up a complaint against Mary Kendall, the top watchdog for the Interior Department, who is accused of a conflict of interest involving the Obama administration’s 2010 deepwater drilling moratorium.

USA Today first reported in May that Kendall had attended meetings where top Interior officials discussed drafts of a peer-reviewed report on deepwater drilling. Kendall later was called on to investigate after the White House edited the report to suggest inaccurately that the deepwater engineers who peer-reviewed the report agreed with the moratorium — a potential violation of a federal law meant to protect scientific data from political interference.

Three Gulf Coast GOP senators — David Vitter, R-La.; Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.; and John Cornyn, R-Texas — said Kendall failed “to ensure an independent, impartial and complete investigation” into the editing of the report. They asked the Integrity Committee of the Council of Inspectors General for Integrity and Efficiency to review the matter.

The Integrity Committee’s chairman told the senators that the panel will hold a special meeting Thursday to take up the matter.

Chairman Kevin Perkins, who is also assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division, told the senators that the committee’s purview includes both administrative misconduct or other conduct that might “undermine the independence and integrity” expected of an inspector general.

Kendall has denied wrongdoing, saying she did not actively participate in the drafting of the report.

The House Natural Resources Committee is also investigating. Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., demanded that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar make six high-ranking department officials — including his chief of staff and former White House liaison — available for interviews.

Hastings complained that the department has refused to turn over documents related to the moratorium report, telling Salazar the committee “is left with no choice other than to continue to pursue compliance with the subpoena.”

Spokesman Spencer Pederson said the chairman “is not taking anything off the table,” including a contempt of Congress charge, to enforce the subpoena.

Interior Department spokesman Adam Fetcher said the department turned over nearly 2,000 pages of documents and would “continue to cooperate with the committee’s legitimate oversight interests.” He also complained that the congressional investigation was “made up of an ever-changing and unsettled set of requests to relitigate an issue that was resolved two years ago.”

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