WASHINGTON - Media critics didn't wait for two former BIA officials to warm the chairs in their new offices before cries of ethics violations were raised.
Strong and frequent criticism came from the Boston Globe against former Assistant Secretary Kevin Gover and Deputy Assistant Secretary Mike Anderson.
The Globe printed articles highly critical of what it called a violation of the one-year cooling-off period before working for a firm that had business with a federal agency and accusations that last-minute tribal recognition was a ploy to advance gaming efforts by American Indian tribes.
Accusations that indicate the two went to work for law firms to represent gaming tribes, is partly true, but Gover and Anderson said they will not deal with gaming interests and did not before.
The Globe article written by Sean Murphy accused Anderson of manipulating a gaming agreement between two management companies and the St. Regis Mohawk for a casino in the Catskills of upper New York. Anderson, through a letter to the Mohawk Council, confirmed that tribal governments can designate subdivisions that work for them. In this case Anderson said the tribal court could not act on behalf of the tribal government.
The accusation comes from the fact some tribal members sued the recognized tribal government to impose approval of another gaming management company.
"The letter was not issued in response to promoting casino gambling, but to clarify that the Mohawk Tribe has authority to recognize its own courts.
"It is false to suggest the letter was issued to help the Mohawk Tribe build a casino or was designed to assist in any land into trust issues involving Park Place Entertainment. I have not and do not represent Park Place Entertainment," Anderson stated in a letter to the Globe.
The flap over questions of violations of the federal revolving door policy and recognition of tribes attracted the attention of three Congressmen. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., asked for a complete investigation of the BIA under the Clinton administration, Rep. Robert Simmons, R-Conn., also called for an investigation of the BIA, and Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., opposed any new recognition in Connecticut for a few years to stop gaming expansion and also asked for reforms in the BIA.
"Chris Shays has been opposing recognition in Connecticut for the past five or six years, so I think rather than attacking Indian policy he can attack the Indian appointees. It serves their purposes as well," Anderson said.
"I think that Murphy (Boston Globe) has kind of bought into this. In terms of the Mohawk, there is a bitter struggle between Catskills and Park Place group - none of whom I represent - and he bought the bait from the Catskills group by their trying to challenge my Oct. 6 letter. There is a lot of political agendas here at play," Anderson said.
Before leaving the BIA, Gover approved recognition of the Chinook Nation over the objections of staff in the Bureau of Acknowledgement and Recognition, which provided fuel for Gover's critics. Anderson, acting as assistant secretary after Gover's resignation, approved recognition for the Nipmuc Tribe, a move for which Anderson is under attack.
Gover said he provided information that would have cleared up any misunderstanding, however when articles were printed, his comments were excluded. He said anything that would counter parts of articles was not included.
Anderson said the articles indicated that the Nipmuc and Duwamish recognition decisions were biased because of a conflict of interest.
"And then the articles said the matter was under review. They've been under review from the first day the (Bush) administration took office, because all the regulations and various things had a governmentwide moratorium. Then the headline says, 'Clinton aide makes decision under fire.'
"Well, there's not a fire there. It's part of all the decisions that were wrapped up into a general prohibition, but (the reporter) creates the aura of a scandal," he said.
In a letter to the Boston Globe, Anderson said the Inspector General reviewed charges in the Nipmuc and Duwamish recognition process and found them to be groundless.
"Instead, we got the fact that I recognized the Chinooks, that the BAR staff recommended otherwise and now I'm an Indian attorney again representing Indian tribes. Knowing just that, it is an attempt to make us look corrupt, but it's also to suggest that all of Indian dealings in Washington are corrupt simply because of gaming money," Gover said.
"The primary motivation (of the criticism) is gaming. The wash-over from that affects taking land into trust and recognition in a big way. I don't have a problem with people against gaming. There are good reasons for being against it, but that should not wash over into issues like land into trust and recognition of lost tribes," he said.
"These Congressmen who are calling for reform have never been there for us in the past. They've never done anything positive in Indian legislation. I certainly didn't help us in the 1995 and '96 budget cuts and yet now, they want to reform Indian affairs and that kind of reform is not what we are interested in," he said.
Anderson said when he talked to reporters about the issue, he asked one in particular from the St. Petersburg Times, the reporter was not aware of exemptions from the revolving door policy that allowed former federal employees to work for local, state or tribal governments. He said the reporter found his conduct of working for a private law firm with Indian governments troubling.
"I said that's what I worked in before I came to Interior and those were the issues I was involved with and after Interior, that's what I will be involved with my whole life."
Anderson added that reporters who wrote the critical articles would have accepted his working with non-profit groups like Native American Rights Fund more easily.
"There is no way to combat that kind of attitude. People feel that people who leave the federal government should not work in the private industry. I'm not sure there is a whole lot we can do to combat that kind of feeling."
Gover said the reporters were treating the issue as if American Indian federal employees thought up the process of working for private firms after a federal career. The attempt to promote a scandal by the media comes after former President Clinton came under fire for rapid issuance of many regulations and directives, along with many pardons and commutations, that met with widespread criticism and outrage in some cases.
Gover and Anderson said they believe criticism of their actions is part of that fervor present after the Clinton administration.
"I honestly feel it's a case of racial profiling. I think that if I'd gone to a non-profit organization, these issues wouldn't be raised. The fact I went to a law firm that represents Indian tribal governments, including those that have or are seeking gaming establishments, I think, raised the ire of the Boston Globe.
"There're 3,000 political appointees that left the federal government last year. When I talked to the ethics office to see if anybody had written in asking for the exemption for the one-year of the revolving door policy, she said she had stacks of them and that this was going to be a cottage industry for her - writing back letters saying we've accepted your request," Anderson said.
Gover said the law for federal employees gives them a one-year cooling-off period before they can represent clients before their old agency. The exception to that law is for those who represent state, local and tribal governments. That allows Gover and Anderson to represent tribal governments before the Department of the Interior and the BIA. They cannot represent a corporate interest, for example a tribally owned energy firm. The two are prohibited from working on cases they were directly involved with. Anderson could not represent the Nipmucs or Duwamish nor can Gover represent the Chinooks - for life.
If that is the case, why all the media attention and attempts to sniff out a possible scandal?
"These guys are being used as poster boys. They are beating up on Kevin and Mike in order to ... I think, intimidate the next guys that come in," said Rex Hackler, former press aide in the Gover administration.
"I think that's exactly what this is all about. That's exactly why Wolf and Simmons and Shays are doing all this woofing, ... to try to intimidate the next guy, and I think it could have an impact on the next guy, for two reasons. One, to let him know that if you make a pro-Indian decision on recognition or a gaming issue or even a land into trust issue, we are going to make you pay politically and it will be investigated whether there is any cause or not," Gover said.
He said the second impact is to make sure the next assistant secretary doesn't have any gaming experience, which he added will limit the pool from which to gather names of qualified people. Most attorneys or tribal leaders have worked with gaming in some form or another, he said.
Neal McCaleb, Oklahoma transportation secretary, has been named as the next assistant secretary by the Bush administration. He has had no gaming experience and some larger tribes complain he has no experience as an advocate for tribes in the areas of sovereignty and other critical issues.
"I agree, it sets a foundation. It reduces the flexibility of the American Indian policy-makers so the assistant secretary and others who come on board that might have a familiarity with Indian affairs will be so cautious in terms of having full solicitor's support and full career staff support, that any autonomous judgment they might exercise might well be reduced.
"The job of the assistant secretary is to resolve disagreements among staff and, in my experience in the department, there was vigorous disagreement among the assistant secretary's staff and the career staff. Someone's got to make that decision, but it's not that you do a blind deference to career staff in every instance, there's got to be some political judgement.
"And for a new assistant secretary, that will reflect President Bush's philosophy and general principals on Indian sovereignty and with President Clinton, it reflected his. But it certainly is going to reduce the independence of the assistant secretary, and that's what these attacks are designed to do," Anderson said.
What would it be like to have the career staff, the bureaucracy, making decisions?
"It means the inmates run the asylum, because it over-empowers the career staff. These same people, and I guarantee these same people have made some speech at some point in their lives attacking bureaucrats, now want to empower the bureaucrats and leave the political management out of the mix. And that's wrong.
"Why have an election if that's going to be the way the government's going to be run? It is all meant to limit the ability of the new assistant secretary to be active and positive on behalf of tribes, and that's bad news. That's bad news because there's nobody else that's going to do it," Gover said.
Hope is not gone for tribes seeking federal recognition. Gover and Anderson said there were a number of congressional members interested in the process of recognition. Maybe, they said, not so much in the results, but in the timely decisions. And, the support lies on both sides of the political aisle.
Land into trust regulations could be another matter, they said. The public comment period has been opened up again with criticism coming from many tribes. Anderson said trust land across the country reduces in size each year and that new regulation could give local communities more input into trust land acquisition that may be inconsistent with the Indian Reorganization Act.
"That's a good point and it will tell us whether the new assistant secretary will be an advocate for the tribes, because to lose that argument is to lose a big one.
"And if regulations do provide for local sign-off on these things, well then the tribes are just screwed, because they are going to be blackmailed into all sorts of conditions that they don't want to live with in order to get land into trust. ... I'm pretty discouraged by that," Gover said.
The two former BIA officials asserted that decisions they made while in the bureau were ones they will stand by. They said what they have done to further their careers as attorneys is not outside the boundaries of the revolving-door policy. The two will remain advocates for Indian country.
The fallout from the Clinton criticism prior to his leaving office will taint Indian country because of negative and improper news media coverage, they said.
"I think that's why the press is trying to write a scandal story, because everybody loves a scandal story. Clinton was criticized for last-minute decisions on pardons and such, and so they were trying to find yet another example of scandalous conduct by the Clinton administration.
"And I think that's why people are biting on it and that's all they are going to read about Indians in a number of these papers. They're not going to see positive stories. They are not going to see real stories about how Indian people are living. That's what is so dangerous about it. It leaves the impression that every Indian is somehow involved in Indian gaming and that we are out to expand our wealth at the expense of surrounding communities when the reality is that most Indian communities are still suffering. That's just bad for us, it's bad for us when the public is misinformed.
"What is important is not what happened to us. We know so many people in Indian country and they just know better that we are careful guys and we wouldn't do anything unseemly. But the problem is the environment it creates for the tribes when they come in here to try to advance an Indian agenda," Gover said.