Bernhardt pushes ethics reforms amid complaints

By: Michael Doyle, E&E News, April 3, 2019

Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt before testifying at a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week. Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Newscom
Interior secretary nominee David Bernhardt is scheduled for a vote tomorrow in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, amid an ethics back-and-forth that shows no sign of letting up.

While Interior’s Office of Inspector General is taking a preliminary look at a conflict-of-interest complaint lodged against Bernhardt, he has issued his own new directives this week to the department’s top ethics officer.

Bernhardt’s ethics memo yesterday also happened to come on the same day the Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit watchdog group, announced that Interior’s Office of Inspector General confirmed it is reviewing a request for investigation into Bernhardt and his relationship with his former lobbying client, Westlands Water District in California.

“We are reviewing the information you provided, in addition to other information available to us, in order to determine the appropriate next steps,” the IG wrote.

Under his ethics pledge signed Aug. 10, 2017, Bernhardt committed not to participate for two years in any “particular matter” on which he lobbied within the two years preceding his Interior appointment. Several complaints assert Bernhardt may have broken that vow with discussions over California water deliveries that could benefit Westlands.

“We’re glad the Inspector General’s office is reviewing the matter, and we hope they will conduct a full investigation to determine whether Mr. Bernhardt violated ethics rules,” Daniel Stevens, executive director of the Campaign for Accountability, said in a statement.

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