A senior official at the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) attempted to impede a federal investigation of multiple acts of official misconduct, according to a newly uncovered watchdog report.
The official is now president of an energy industry group that regularly does business with BLM.
The reports indicates that Steve Henke, the former manager of a New Mexico field office: misled agency officials into advancing the sales of public lands to associates, unlawfully accepted meals and gifts from industry representatives, authorized a firearms dealer to construct an illegal shooting range on BLM land, and attempted to obstruct the ensuing investigation.
“During our investigation, Henke provided false information to investigators and may have attempted to obstruct OIG’s investigation by influencing other witnesses,” the heavily-redacted report reads.
The report was first obtained by Environment & Energy Publishing in connection with a broader Freedom of Information Act investigation.
“If you are going to play in this arena, you have to understand that’s part of what transpires,” Henke told E&E reporter Scott Streater. “But I acted entirely within the scope of my authority and with the public interest at the forefront in my actions as district manager.”
Henke added that he did not obstruct federal investigators during the course of their probe. He left the Bureau in 2010 to become chief of the New Mexico Oil and Natural Gas Association (NMONGA), a group that frequently lobbies BLM. Extensive drilling takes place on public lands in BLM’s New Mexico district.
The report was not published until 2013, and the details were not made public until recently. The agency did not pursue disciplinary action against Henke because he had left BLM three years prior, placing him beyond their jurisdiction. New Mexico’s U.S. Attorney reviewed the report but declined to pursue a criminal case.
The Project On Government Oversight lobbied the U.S. Department of the Interior to take action on Henke as early as 2010, to no avail.
Henke and his group have been hammered by green activists since he took over NMONGA in 2010. The Wilderness Society released a report in June asserting BLM policy and land management priorities are driven by industry interests like NMONGA.
The DOI Inspector General previously declined to pursue a case against a senior government official who was caught masturbating publicly on multiple occasions over the course of his career.