Published September 18, 2017
WASHINGTON — Three recent federal audits have found the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation misspending more than $100 million in funds but the agency has not committed to any meaningful reforms nor to punishing any responsible officials, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The latest audit, last week, identified $84.8 million in improper Bureau of Reclamation payments to the State of California for its controversial Delta Tunnel Project. Despite this finding, the Bureau has no stated plans to recover even a penny.
Three recent critical audits arose from reports by Reclamation’s own employees represented by PEER. In the latest report on Friday, the Inspector General (IG) for the U.S. Department of Interior concluded that Reclamation illegally siphoned off funds to benefit fish and wildlife for the Delta Tunnel, a project to trans-ship vast quantities of freshwater from the Sacramento River and Delta to the south. This project does not benefit fish and wildlife – just the opposite – but will principally benefit south-state irrigators.
This is the third recent scathing report on Reclamation misappropriations—
- In late August, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel concluded that Reclamation illegally gave $32 million to Klamath irrigators, again misusing funds earmarked for protecting fish and wildlife. This ruling validated an earlier IG report confirming whistleblower disclosures; and
- In October, the IG found that Reclamation never collected “repayment of millions of dollars of costs incurred to design, construct, and operate and maintain new head gates and fish screens” within the Klamath Project. These gates and screens are supposed to keep federally protected fish “in the river and out of the Klamath project irrigation canals.”
“At Reclamation, even massive misappropriation means never having to say you are sorry,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting that all three cases arose out of one Reclamation office – the Mid-Pacific Region. “Reclamation’s posture of denying wrongdoing but promising not to do it again merely suggests it will seek out other shady ruses rather than genuinely reform its grant process.”
PEER has been pressing both Reclamation’s parent agency, the Department of Interior, as well as the U.S. Congress to step in, but to no avail thus far. PEER also proposed a series of reforms to prevent future lapses in Reclamation financial agreements but these issues were not even raised during the pending nomination of Brenda Burman to serve as the next Commissioner of Reclamation.
“As long as Reclamation suffers no consequences for repeated, blatant misconduct to the detriment of both the taxpayer and its mission, nothing will change,” added Dinerstein, pointing out that there appears to be no effort to collect any of the funds handed out in illegal or unauthorized grants. “We are frustrated that the relevant Congressional committees are also shirking their responsibilities. Unfortunately in the current Congress, oversight seems to be synonymous with overlook.”