Skip to comments.Bush Policies Prompt Aides to Leave (Extreme Whine Alert)
Posted on 07/01/2002 10:41:40 AM PDT by BOBTHENAILER
Washington - James Furnish is hardly the kind of person you'd expect to quit his government job on principle during the Bush administration. A political conservative and an evangelical Christian, he voted for President Bush and plans to do the same in 2004.
As a deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service, he was eager to give his new bosses the benefit of his more than 30 years of experience in the agency. He realized his conservationist ethic might not always prevail. But he was ready to say his piece and then accept the new administration's direction.
Instead, Furnish reluctantly left the government in the fall, at a substantial financial sacrifice, because he was frustrated by what he called the Bush team's strident pro-development philosophy and unwillingness to listen to his perspective.
That makes him one of a number of senior career officials across several environmental agencies who have quit since the Bush administration took over. They include senior lawyers from the Environmental Protection Agency, a state director for the Bureau of Land Management, scientists with years of experience and top bureaucrats in Washington.
In each case, the decision to leave a well-paid job after years or even decades of service reflected concern over the Bush administration's efforts to make environmental regulations more friendly to businesses and promote energy extraction from federal lands.
The departures also reveal that under the Bush team, divergent views in the top ranks of these agencies have been ignored and key career government officials who were seen to favor protecting natural resources over promoting their use have been removed from power.
Whether the number of departures is unusual is difficult to say. No one chronicles resignations on principle, and a Republican had not taken the White House from a Democrat for 20 years.
Eric Ruff, spokesman for the Interior Department, said staff changes are normal in a new administration. "This is not something that's unique to this administration," Ruff said.
Whether or not the departures are unusually numerous, Paul Light, vice president for governmental studies at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution, said they were very costly.
"A lot of these people came to government in the 1960s and 1970s because they beilieved in the mission," Light said. "It's very furstrating for someone who came into government for the mission to reach the top of their career and be told that doesn't matter, it's all about politics."
Although Furnish, for example, was one of the most senior career officials in the Forest Service, the new administration's political appointees did not invite him to any pivotal policy-making meetings.
Three times he was scheduled to testify before Congress; three times political appointees canceled his testimony at the last minute.
Out of the loop
Furnish did not expect to make policy for the new administration, but he did expect that his senior post would give him the right to express his views and be included in policy discussions. Instead, he was shut out.
In the Clinton administration, he played a key role in shaping the policy of banning road building and logging in almost 60 million acres of national forest land. He also was central to an initiative that would have required forest planners to consider environmental preservation above all other goals when deciding how national forests would be managed.
"I've been disappointed and somewhat embittered with how the (Bush) administration has sought to undo them or not defend them," Furnish said. "But I'm a realist and pragmatist and I understand it's their day now."
Furnish took a financial hit by leaving when he did. His retirement income will be about $10,000 less a year for the rest of his life than if he had waited about a year longer.
Forest Service Chief Dale N. Bosworth said Furnish was experiencing the predictable discomforts of a shift in administration.
"Every time we have a change of administration, we have a job of building trust between us and the new administration," said Bosworth, who is also a career government employee. "Until we build that relationship, there is going to be some uneasiness."
Like Furnish, other top career executives in the environmental agencies complain they were cut out of the loop. Some were abruptly reassigned from jobs they loved.
When the Bush administration took office, Martha Hahn, 47, was one of very few women who had reached the level of state director for the Bureau of Land Management. She was responsible for 12 million acres in Idaho, alomost one-quarter of the state.
In seven years on the job, she said she tried to balance preserving clean water, wilderness and wildlife with allowing multiple uses of the land, such as grazing.
EPA director quits
Soon after the Bush administration took over, things changed. Headquarters started making decisions on her turf without her. Some of her decisions, such as those on grazing plans, were overruled in Washington.
But even before the new BLM chief officially started work, Hahn received a letter from Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles telling her that she was being transferred to a previously nonexistent job in New York City. For a land manager who loves the Rocky Mountain West, it was the equivalent of being put out to pasture.
Hahn quit instead. "It's been a shock," she said. "I'm going through mental anguish right now. I felt like I was at the prime of my career. I was really clicking along, and I was tossed out."
The career official who made the most waves when he left was Eric Schaeffer, the former head of the EPA's enforcement office. He quit in March after 12 years at the agency, accusing the new administration of endangering public health by failing to aggressively pursue pending lawsuits against coal-fired power plants.
He and his staff could almost taste the victory from agreements in principle with two utilities to make massive pollution reductions. He said the administration undermined those settlements by waffling on the policy behind the lawsuits.
His departure was covered widely by the news media, and he testified about his complaints before Congress.
New blood leaves
Younger government employees who became government servants to help protect the environment also have quit.
After just three years as an EPA staff attorney, Michele Merkel, 34, was convinced of the essential role that lawsuits and fines lay in forcing companies to abide by environmental regulations.
She was discouraged when Christie Whitman, the EPA's new administrator, told her unit she wanted to play down enforcement and instead lure companies to stop polluting voluntarily.
She was further disappointed when Whitman proposed cutting the enforcement budget and reducing the enforcement staff through attrition.
"Ultimately what drove me out of the agency was the anti-enforcement philosophy of the current administration," Merkel said.
Merkel and the other officials who quit said they left many disgruntled colleagues behind.
Jeff Rook, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said his agency has talked with at least 20 Interior employees weighing quitting.
"They find themselves increasingly despairing; they're being asked to undo the work they've spent the bulk of their careers doing," Rook said.
He realized his conservationist ethic might not always prevail. But he was ready to say his piece and then accept the new administration's direction.
Judging by the facts alone, the man is a liar.
He probably just got a better job offer, and decided a little political grandstanding would make him a semi-celebrity at his next wine-and-brie social.
I'd be willing to bet a lot that you are right on the money.
Agreed. The quicker the better.
Well it's about time they left
Thus saving US $10,000 per year for the rest of his life. May many others follow him out the door.
And we are supposed to trust the JUDGEMENT of this fool??
What a whimp to not consider his family and the input he could have had, had he stayed. What a friggin crybaby.
I say good ridance.. especially considering this about him "In the Clinton administration, he played a key role in shaping the policy of banning road building and logging in almost 60 million acres of national forest land. He also was central to an initiative that would have required forest planners to consider environmental preservation above all other goals when deciding how national forests would be managed."
Gee,.. could it be that with all the FIRES going on thanks to the environmental idiots like this guy... that he was POLITELY asked to leave?
He probably was allowed to stay on for the sake of his retirement benefits. That he stomped out of his job like this..and now is crying to the press.. is proof he was a trouble maker!!
Good ridance..and don't let the door hit ya in the _ _ _!!!
They have closed quite a few roads in the area where I live, forcing people to go hours out of their way to get in or out.
I am still upset about the Wildlife folks arresting the farmer for plowing his own land. They have harrassed people for plowing firebreaks on their own land, during fire season.
They have shut down industries of long standing, putting people out of work, with out batting an eye.
Honestly, these people are fascists and need to go.
Klintoon's people pure and simple, i.e. EPA , Bureau of Land Grabbings, scientists with their accompanying "the sky is falling because of Republican policies", and other leftists left over from the x42 administration.