New Documents Deepen Concern Over Top BLM Official’s Ethics Compliance

New Documents Deepen Concern Over Top BLM Official’s Ethics Compliance

  • October 6, 2022
Whistleblower documents show ethics officials were likely made aware of need to include The Wilderness Society in Culver’s recusal list

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust released documents raising additional questions regarding the participation of the then-head of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in particular matters involving her former employer for several months at the beginning of her tenure at the Interior Department. The documents show that a week before Nada Culver joined the Department, career officials gathered detailed information concerning the need for recusal from The Wilderness Society (TWS) and their various litigation matters pending against BLM and Interior. The information was sent to Michael Nedd, the top career official at BLM and a senior BLM attorney. Yet less than three weeks later, Ms. Culver was given initial ethics guidance that left TWS off her recusal list, enabling her to ultimately meet with TWS in the months ahead while claiming that she was unaware of her obligations.

A recent Inspector General’s report, sparked by a complaint by PPT, found Ms. Culver violated her obligations by meeting with TWS (“Bureau of Land Management Official Did Not Comply With the Federal Ethics Pledge”), although the IG let her off with a warning based on the fact that TWS was not initially included on her ethics agreement. Yet these newly obtained documents undermine claims that the Ethics Office was unaware of Ms. Culver’s covered relationships and present questions of Ms. Culver’s candor in shaping and approving her initial guidance.

Additional documents obtained via a FOIA request also highlight the dysfunction and questionable judgment at the Department of the Interior. Within 45 days of the Ethics Office reporting Ms. Culver to the Inspector General for meeting with TWS the Ethics Office granted Culver permission to participate in a fundraiser sponsored by the very same organization. While the fundraising cause appears to be personal in nature and perhaps laudatory, the recently declared ethics violation and ongoing investigation into her impartiality appears reckless and dismissive of the generally cautious approach that is traditionally recommended by Interior’s Ethics Office.

“These documents raise the question of whether the ethics office knew or should have known that Ms. Culver was prohibited from meeting with her former employer,” said Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “Did Ms. Culver play a role in removing her former employer from her recusal list? Also, in light of her clear ethics violation involving The Wilderness Society, why would Ms. Culver possibly seek to participate in a fundraiser sponsored by them two months later? Sadly, these facts demonstrate a pattern of disregard for the public’s trust and requirements to steer clear of potential conflicts of interest. We can only hope that at some point there is a wake-up call among Department leadership.”