By Dan Bacher, Restore the Delta, October 24, 2017
Six House Democrats today asked the GAO, the federal watchdog agency that conducts investigations and audits on behalf of Congress, to issue a legal opinion about the Bureau of Reclamation’s funding scheme. The penalty for this type of misuse of public money can include removal from office. Here is the news release just in from Congressman Jared Huffman’s office:
Led by Reps. Jared Huffman (D-CA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the Natural Resources Committee’s Ranking Member, six House Democrats are calling on the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to open a new investigation into the misuse of taxpayer funds by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation, following last month’s revelations that tens of millions of dollars were secretly spent by the federal agency to subsidize private interests and help develop plans for a massive new California water project.
In its September audit, the Interior Department’s Inspector General found that the Bureau of Reclamation improperly subsidized the planning process for the California WaterFix project, also known as the “Delta Tunnels.” The audit identified at least $84 million in taypayer funds spent without disclosure to Congress as required by law, and kept hidden from other water users, stakeholders, and the public.
According to the Inspector General, at least $50 million of this total should have been paid by the local water agencies that sought to benefit from the massive infrastructure project, such as the powerful Westlands Water District. Instead, those costs were secretly reassigned by the Bureau of Reclamation so that taxpayers would pay most of the water districts’ share.
With today’s letter, the lawmakers are asking the GAO, the federal watchdog agency that conducts investigations and audits on behalf of Congress, to issue a legal opinion about the Bureau of Reclamation’s funding scheme. The penalty for this type of misuse of public money can include removal from office.
The Inspector General’s audit found that the controversial funding plan was first launched in 2008, during the period when David Bernhardt was the department’s top lawyer. Upon leaving the department, Bernhardt became one of the top lobbyists for the Westlands Water District, the major beneficiary of this funding plan. He has now returned to the Interior Department as Deputy Secretary. In responses to the Inspector General, Interior Department staff have indicated that there are no plans to recoup these millions of dollars in taxpayer funds that were spent without authorization or rationale.
In addition to Rep. Huffman and Rep. Grijalva, the letter was also signed by Mike Thompson (D-CA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), and Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA).
The full text of the letter can be found at the bottom of the Daily Kos’ article here.