Why Aren’t BLM Honcho’s Ethics Violations Being Investigated?

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


In August, we brought you the story of Steven Henke, a former Bureau of Land Management field manager and ethics probe target who recently landed a new job as head of an oil and gas industry advocacy group. Henke took gifts like golf tickets, lodging, and meals from an oil company, and also took money from the same company for his kid’s baseball team.

The Department of Interior’s inspector general found these to be clear ethics violations after a General Accounting Office report that found he was “too close to unnamed oil and gas industry officials and made decisions to benefit companies based on personal relationships, rather than the good of BLM.” But the district attorney general declined to prosecute the case. Now, the Project on Government Oversight wants to know why.

The watchdogs sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey asking why these violations were not investigated. The group argues that “ethics officials failed to exercise due diligence” in approving Henke’s move to his new job as president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, a classic example of the much-criticized revolving door between regulatory agencies and the industry.

While the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (now known as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement) has been subject to an ethics overhaul since the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, the department’s other offices need similar scrutiny, POGO argues.

“It’s shocking that BLM wasn’t concerned with the misconduct of one of its managers, nor his turn through the revolving door to represent the companies he was supposed to have been overseeing,” said POGO executive director Danielle Brian. “Henke’s new position could present a significant conflict of interest. This should be a no-brainer.”

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest