An inspector general’s report released Tuesday found Interior Secretary David Bernhardt committed no wrongdoing during his work as deputy secretary on a scientific assessment evaluating the impact of pesticides on endangered species.
“We found no evidence that Bernhardt exceeded or abused his authority or that his actions influenced or altered the findings of career FWS [Fish & Wildlife Service] scientists,” said the Interior Department Office of Inspector General in its four-page report.
The OIG’s investigation was spurred by allegations that Mr. Bernhardt improperly intervened in 2017-18 to suppress the agency’s work on pesticides, an accusation that appeared in a March 26 article in the New York Times a month after he was nominated to be Interior Secretary.
The report also absolved Mr. Bernhardt, a former oil-and-gas lawyer and lobbyist, of conflict of interest, finding that none of the pesticide companies involved were former clients.
Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, cheered the OIG’s findings and chalked up the flap to Democratic “hyper-partisanship.”
“Contrary to false allegations lodged at David Bernhardt during his Senate confirmation process, the Inspector General has confirmed Secretary Bernhardt never interfered with scientific findings,” said Mr. Bishop. “Once again, facts have revealed hyper-partisanship that has blinded Democrats from focusing on real issues rather than attempting to besmirch dedicated public servants in this Administration.”
The watchdog investigation came at the behest of Senate Democrats, including Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, who said that Mr. Bernhardt “directly intervened with Fish and Wildlife Services officials to block the release of a report on toxic pesticides.”
“As a result, I am deeply troubled by what appears to be a political appointee meddling in the scientific process at USFWS in its analysis of toxic pesticides and their effect on the environment and hundreds of endangered species,” said Mr. Wyden in his March 29 letter.
According to the OIG report, Mr. Bernhardt criticized a draft biological opinion on the pesticide malathion, saying the document was “completely inconsistent with our regulatory paradigm” and that it only analyzed the pesticide’s approved usage, not its past usage.
“The SOL [Office of the Solicitor] attorneys said that after they reviewed the draft biological opinion on malathion they agreed with Bernhardt’s observations and that he raised valid legal concerns,” said the OIG report.
Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination was approved April 11 by the Senate.
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