Fish, Wildlife and really, really bad manners

An etiquette lesson for Bush administration corporate lackeys: Don't swear at the field biologists. Oh, and don't leave an e-mail trail.

Published May 2, 2007 8:03PM (EDT)

What do the sage grouse, tiger salamander, Delta smelt, Alameda whipsnake, Preble's Meadow jumping mouse, Southwest willow flycatcher and Kootenai river sturgeon have in common? For the last five years, their sworn enemy has been Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald, a Bush administration political appointee with no wildlife biology experience, who during her tenure did everything in her not inconsiderable power to undermine the protection offered to these animals under the Endangered Species Act.

MacDonald resigned in disgrace on Tuesday, nine days before a congressional oversight hearing investigating the Bush administration's violations of the Endangered Species Act and one month after the release of a devastating report from the Department of Interior's inspector general proving, among other things, that MacDonald had been e-mailing nonpublic documents from the Fish and Wildlife Department to organizations such as the California Farm Bureau and the Pacific Legal Foundation that actively represent business interests threatened by the application of the Endangered Species Act. (Thanks to Salon reader Dan Helming for pointing us to an Environmental News Service story on the resignation.)

The report makes for highly entertaining reading. Certainly, at this late date during the decline and fall of the Bush empire, it comes as zero surprise to anyone that a Bush appointee dedicated herself to serving corporate interests in contravention of the law of the land and the public interest. The country got what it asked for when it elected Bush, and environmental protection wasn't part of the package. But it's still shocking to see how brazen MacDonald was -- calling up field biologists and demanding that they change their scientific findings, handing over confidential government information to entities engaged in suing the federal government, and attempting to circumvent, by every means possible, the laws that she was supposed to uphold. Kudos to the inspector general for documenting her abuses, and good riddance.

But reading between the lines of the report, you can't avoid a more sobering conclusion. If Julie MacDonald hadn't been the nightmare boss from hell, she might well still be in her job, doing as much damage to American wildlife as possible. The investigation began because an anonymous Fish and Wildlife service (FWS) employee complained that MacDonald had "bullied , insulted, and harassed the professional staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service to change documents and alter biological reporting regarding the Endangered Species program."

Maybe if she'd asked more nicely, she still would have a job! Interviews conducted by the office of the inspector general (IG) reveal that MacDonald was "an angry woman," a "pain-in-the-butt," had a confrontational "in-your-face" management style, and was "disrespectful, rude, and unprofessional." An assistant regional solicitor stated that "'never in over 20 years of government service' had he seen a political appointee behave like she did."

MacDonald herself revealed that "it was not beyond the realm of possibility that she swore at field personnel when challenging them on their scientific/biological findings."

It seems pretty obvious: Most of the people working under her hated her guts, and not just because of her "fundamental suspicion of FWS employees because of her belief that they were close with the environmental groups." They also didn't like being yelled at!

MacDonald's doom was further prefigured when her original boss, who told the IG that "he did not recall anyone in FWS complaining to him regarding the managerial style of MacDonald," was replaced by Dale Hall, an actual wildlife biologist, who immediately began reining MacDonald in, and who told the IG, in reference to the allegations against her, "A lot of that is true."

When your boss doesn't support you, your underlings hate you, and there is an e-mail trail documenting that you delivered nonpublic government information to organizations engaged in suing your department, then, yeah, a humiliating resignation is not the biggest eyebrow-raiser in the world.

Which just leaves us with the rest of the Bush administration appointments, at least some of whom are presumably serving their corporate masters with better manners.

UPDATE: A reader informs me that I erred in describing Dale Hall as MacDonald's boss:

Dale Hall is not Julie MacDonald's boss. MacDonald was a political appointee in the office in the Department of the Interior that oversees FWS; Hall is the head of the Fish and Wildlife Service. As a career FWS employee who is knowledgeable about the ESA and FWS responsibilities, he had enough gravamen to tell MacDonald to back off. In addition, MacDonald's patron, former asst secy for FWP Craig Manson, left a couple years back, leaving her w/ no one to cover for her.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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