Grijalva, Huffman Push DOI on Refusal to Cooperate With GAO Inquiry on Water Issue Dating to Bernhardt’s Previous Tenure

Washington, D.C. April 10, 2019 – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who chairs the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, sent a letter to Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt today calling for immediate cooperation by the Department of the Interior (DOI), which has refused to discuss unusual financial transactions between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; Westlands Water District, a former lobbying client of Bernhardt’s; and several other California water districts.

The full letter is available at http://bit.ly/2D6lWUo.

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Beginning in 2008, when Bernhardt served as DOI solicitor in the George W. Bush administration, the Bureau of Reclamation began a process to recategorize expenses that should have been borne by individual water districts in a way that required taxpayers to cover certain costs instead. This unusual accounting scheme, which greatly benefited Westlands, cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars and was not included in DOI’s budget disclosure documents to Congress.

Grijalva and Huffman requested a Government Accountability Office (GAO) legal opinion on Oct. 24, 2017, to assess whether DOI had broken any laws in carrying out the recategorization program. On Dec. 6, 2017, GAO sought a formal explanation from DOI.

As the lawmakers write today:

This week, we learned that the reason for the delay in issuing the legal opinion was DOI’s refusal to respond to GAO. [. . .] We expect that you will immediately direct your staff to fully comply with the GAO’s request so that Congress can properly assess and address potentially illegal activities that may have occurred at the Department to benefit your former client. We further expect that you will provide us with your explanation for the Department’s unacceptable failure to respond to the GAO’s request.

Less than a week ago, the New York Times and other outlets reported that Bernhardt continued lobbying for Westlands after vowing not to do so.