Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has raised questions about whether the Interior Department Office of Inspector General's (OIG) investigation of the report that lead to the six-month moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was conducted independently of the department.

In a letter to Interior Acting Inspector General (IG) Mary Kendall last Thursday, Hastings wrote, "Documents recently obtained from your office raise serious questions about the thoroughness and independence of the IG's investigation, including whether the lead investigators were able to obtain, or were directed not to obtain, internal department documents necessary to independently confirm witness statements and other facts at issue in the investigation, as opposed to only a select few documents provided by the same senior department officials subject to the investigation or publicly available documents."

In April, the committee subpoenaed the Interior OIG to turn over 13 documents related to the imposition of the May 2010 moratorium (see Daily GPI, April 16). Hastings claimed that Interior blocked the acting OIG from releasing documents to the committee. A spokesman with the OIG could not be reached for comment.

Hastings in mid-2010 called on Kendall to open an investigation into allegations that the Obama administration altered peer-reviewed recommendations by experts in the report to justify the deepwater drilling moratorium (see Daily GPI, July 23, 2010).

Kendall's office concluded later in 2010 that the White House changed the Interior report to suggest that experts peer reviewed and supported the administration's decision to impose a blanket moratorium on drilling in the GOM (see Daily GPI, Nov. 12, 2010). The Obama administration said the alteration was due to "last minute editing," but Hastings' committee is trying to determine whether this was done intentionally.

"The IG's November 2010 report confirmed that White House officials were involved in editing the report and were responsible for the incorrect peer review language but [it] did not address the central question of whether the peer reviewer's role was intentionally misconstrued to mislead the public and provide cover for the moratorium," Hastings said in his letter to Kendall.

"After more than a year of trying to obtain documents from the department, much is still unknown about [the] events. The department has consistently refused to release drafts of the drilling moratorium report or internal documents between the senior department and White House political appointees who were involved in editing the drilling moratorium report. The department has never disclosed -- either to the IG or to Congress -- the internal department e-mails surrounding the edits to the drilling moratorium reports," he noted.

In a letter responding to the subpoena last month, Christopher Mansour, director of the Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, said the department has submitted nearly 1,000 pages of documents to the committee over the past year, as well as made multiple offers of accommodation for in-camera reviews of documents and briefings to address the committee's concerns.

"Although the IG has provided internal documents from the lead investigators, and is expected to soon provide additional documents concerning its November 2010 investigation, the [department's] IG has not provided the committee with certain documents...including copies of e-mails with White House officials and drafts of the drilling moratorium report, pursuant to a vague claim of confidentiality by the department's Solicitor's Office," Hastings said.

He said he was "deeply frustrated by the department's and now the IG's reliance on vague and unsubstantiated claims of confidentiality as justification to refuse to comply with these duly issued and authorized subpoenas."

In an April 18 letter, Kendall said the IG and department have reached an arrangement whereby the IG has agreed not to disclose information that the department has deemed confidential or privileged, according to Hastings.

"Absent a legitimate assertion of executive privilege, I see no justification for the department or the IG to refuse to comply with a duly issued and authorized subpoena based solely on the confidentiality claims articulated to date. Given the significance of the harm caused by the moratorium and of the questions raised by the IG's investigation, it is important that Congress and the American public have a full accounting from the IG and the department into the circumstances surrounding the drilling moratorium report."

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