Role-playing at the Interior Department

How a political appointee of President Bush gave sensitive government information to corporate interests -- and an online gaming buddy.

Published March 30, 2007 11:21PM (EDT)

Here's a new twist on the tired old tale of bumbling Bush administration employees corrupting science for political ends.

Julie MacDonald, the assistant secretary of fish, wildlife and parks, has just been dinged by the Interior Department's inspector general for disclosing nonpublic government information to private-sector sources, like the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, a law firm that represents corporations in environmental lawsuits. She even sent an e-mail with sensitive information to an address ending ""

MacDonald, who has a civil engineering background, is known within the Interior Department for allegedly rejecting the recommendations of staff scientists to protect endangered species. So this is not much of a surprise.

But surprises do await. It turns out MacDonald's improper disclosures were not limited just to corporate interests. As Gristmill points out, she sent one document about the endangered Delta Smelt of Northern California to an online gaming friend via the friend's father's e-mail account.

The inspector general explains: "MacDonald said she is acquainted with the on-line friend through internet role-playing games. She said she engages in these games to relieve the stress created by her job; however, she said she had not played while at work. When asked why she would e-mail an internal DOI [Department of Interior] document to a private citizen, MacDonald replied, 'I was irritated [with what was happening regarding the subject of the document] and tried to explain my irritation over the phone; however, I sent it to him to read for a better understanding.'"

Later in the report, the inspector general notes, "MacDonald continues to play games on the internet with the on-line friend; however, she has not sent any internal DOI information to him since her first interview last summer."

At least that problem is solved.

By Michael Scherer

Michael Scherer is Salon's Washington correspondent. Read his other articles here.

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