[env-trinity] Mark Limbaugh to go work for the Ferguson Group, a lobby firm that advocates for several local and state water authorities before Interior

Byron bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Jul 12 14:25:19 PDT 2007

Head of Interior Department conduct board joins lobbying firm  
By Kevin Bogardus and Mike Soraghan  
July 11, 2007  

The senior Interior Department official who headed a conduct board crafted
in the wake of the Jack Abramoff scandal is leaving the government to join a
top firm that lobbies the department.

Mark Limbaugh, Interior's assistant secretary for Water and Science, soon
will leave the department for the Ferguson Group, a lobby firm that
advocates for several local and state water authorities before Interior.

"From my perspective, these are temporary jobs. You have to make a living,"
Limbaugh said. "When you are in a business like natural resources, you are
not going out to work for a tire store."

Before his departure was announced in late June, Limbaugh, a distant cousin
of radio host Rush Limbaugh, led a "conduct accountability" board at
Interior created by Secretary Dirk Kempthorne. 

Ethics at Interior have been an issue for some time. Because it regulates
Indian casinos, the agency was a focus for Abramoff, a onetime high-flying
Washington lobbyist now in prison for bribing members of Congress.

J. Steven Griles, a former deputy secretary at the department, was sentenced
to 10 months in prison late last month for lying to a Senate committee about
his relationship with Abramoff.

In addition, deputy assistant secretary Julie MacDonald resigned after an
Interior Inspector General report found she had released non-public
information and altered scientific reports involved with the Endangered
Species Act.

Griles had left the department even before he lied to the Senate committee.
But some officials with connections to Abramoff and Griles continue to work
at top posts in the agency. 

Doug Domenech, an Interior aide, reportedly has been linked to Abramoff and
a former president of the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy,
Italia Federici. James Cason was Griles's deputy and is still at the
Kempthorne "has been rhetorically committed to an ethical workplace but has
not brought in new brooms to sweep clean," the executive director of Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Jeff Ruch, said.

Since November 2006, Limbaugh has headed the board at Interior. The body was
designed to ensure fairness in managing discipline cases, according to a
department-wide June 27 memo by Kempthorne. 

Two days later, the official announced his resignation. Limbaugh said the
department is still finalizing procedures but the board has already handled
some cases.

Ruch said "it is awfully late in the day over there at the Interior
Department" with Limbaugh departing for a lobby firm instead of continuing
with the ethics post.

In the same memo, Kempthorne laid out a 10-point plan he has implemented to
make his department "a model of an ethical workplace" by hiring more ethics
lawyers and strengthening penalties, such as for misusing government
computers, among other actions.

Limbaugh's departure comes on the heels of his deputy Jason Peltier's
resignation. Peltier left the department in late June to join the Westlands
Water District in California, which has interests before Interior, as its
chief deputy general manager.

Democrats have raised concerns about Peltier's and others' moves to
Westlands from Interior. In a June 28 letter to Kempthorne, Reps. George
Miller (D-Calif.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) asked for documentation behind
Peltier's move, as well as for Susan Ramos, a former Bureau of Reclamation
official also working with Westlands, due to potential conflicts of

Limbaugh said that Peltier recused himself from "California issues" and
added he has done the same.

"I have done the same thing as soon as I was approached and I recused myself
from any matters involving clients of the Ferguson Group," the Interior
official said. 

Limbaugh says he will adhere to federal rules and not lobby his old post
during the one-year "cooling-off" period. 

The Ferguson Group lobbies the department. With $10.6 million in earned
revenue for 2006, firm president Roger Gwinn estimates a third of that is
derived from clients concerned over water resource issues.   

The ethics process at Interior in the past has offered little protection
from allegations of wrongdoing. 

Several meetings between then-Secretary Gale Norton and Federici were
approved by ethics officials. Federici since has pleaded guilty to charges
stemming from the Abramoff scandal.

Limbaugh said this is his last week at the department. His first day at the
Ferguson Group is July 23. 

According to an invite obtained by The Hill, the Interior official's
farewell party is this Thursday.  

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