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Washington in brief

Ney gives up the fight against Abramoff charges

Rep. Bob Ney has drawn the first conviction in Congress in the bribery scandal sparked by jailed former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The Department of Justice announced on Sept. 15 that Ney, an Ohio Republican in the House of Representatives, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiring to commit fraud and violating federal lobbying laws. Ney had previously denied wrongdoing in his relationship with Abramoff, which involved providing legislative favors for Abramoff clients, including tribes, in return for golf and gaming getaways, free dining at a Washington restaurant Abramoff owned, and liberal drinking privileges at the same establishment.

Ney staff members have already pleaded guilty to various charges stemming from Abramoff’s lobbying ventures.

Sources of the Congressional Quarterly, noting that Ney did not agree to cooperate in federal investigations as his associates had, put forward the interpretation that the Justice Department may be directing its attentions away from Abramoff-related activities Ney had knowledge of. Other lawmakers are the implied new targets.

Federal prosecutors said they will seek to imprison Ney on two counts for 27 months. The Washington Post newspaper reports that he has entered an alcoholism treatment facility and will reference the role of habitual heavy drinking in his misconduct.

Ney is now resisting calls from Republican Party leadership in Congress for his immediate resignation. He has already announced his resignation from Congress at the end of the current session and given up his committee and subcommittee posts.

<b>Devaney salvo at Interior culture has trust implications</b>

For a department that has shown exceptional stamina in resisting the idea that its mismanagement has cost a few hundred thousand Indians billion-dollar losses from the Individual Indian Money trust, Interior didn’t put up much of a struggle when its inspector general exposed bungles in oil and gas contracting that may cost a couple hundred million U.S. taxpayers $10 billion.

And Earl Devaney, Interior’s top official for independent investigatory oversight, didn’t stop there. In withering testimony Sept. 13 before a Government Reform subcommittee of the House of Representatives, Devaney described a find-no-fault organizational culture among top management at the Interior Department. Interior supervises one-fifth of all national lands, two-thirds of the national fuel reserve and many Native-specific holdings – including the IIM trust.

“Simply stated, short of a crime, anything goes at the highest levels of the Department of the Interior,” Devaney told the subcommittee. He ascribed a steady stream of ethical problems at the department to a “culture of managerial irresponsibility and lack of accountability” among upper management.

Devaney did not address the IIM accounts, subject of the long-running class action lawsuit known as Cobell, after lead plaintiff Elouise Cobell. The Interior personnel who failed to include a royalties provision triggered by rising prices in oil and gas lease contracts, at a cost of $2 billion to the federal treasury so far and an estimated $10 billion over time – then covered up their mistake for years, according to Devaney, who credited The New York Times newspaper and Congress for exposing the lapse – are not yet publicly known.

But Devaney’s assertions had a familiar ring to followers of the IIM litigation. For a decade, the plaintiff class in the case, often backed by court findings, has charged Interior with unconscionable misconduct of the case and wholesale avoidance of responsibility for the historical mismanagement of IIM accounts.

Despite the lack of any apparent direct connection between the mismanagement of oil and gas leases and problems with the IIM trust, Devaney’s account of an organizational culture of complacent dysfunction encompassed Interior’s management class as a whole.

The plaintiff team has compiled a host of editorials and news articles in response to Devaney’s charges at www.indiantrust.com.

Lawmakers were scarcely less scathing than the media. A series of hearings may be called to fix Interior’s shattered management structure, though it was unclear when the hearings might take place on the crowded congressional calendar of an election year.

Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of Government Reform, supplied one of the most acid comments in response to Devaney’s revelations: “It just looks to me like there needs to be adult supervision across the board.”

Rising to the occasion, if not to the full role – for an appointee of six months’ standing, court is still out on that point – Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne issued a statement that emphasized his demand for high ethics at the department he’s inherited. Opposing Devaney’s “anything goes” characterization with his own “If in doubt ... don’t” rule-of-thumb guide to ethics at Interior, Kempthorne applauded Interior employees generally and stated that he’ll settle upon further actions after meeting with Devaney and reviewing his report.