Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Interior's'rock star' budget chief has left the building

When word began to spread that the Interior Department's top career budget chief was calling it quits after nearly four decades of government service, congressional aides of both parties began fretting. Pam Haze is one of Interior's most experienced ambassadors to Congress and a vital resource for appropriators who decide how to fund the $12 billion department. "All of us are nervous," said a Senate Appropriations Committee aide, who was distraught enough to call a meeting earlier this month with his counterpart across the aisle to discuss Haze's departure. Haze -- Interior's deputy assistant secretary for budget, finance, performance and acquisition -- retired Friday after nearly a decade shaping the department's fiscal programs. Her departure leaves a gaping hole in Interior's budget and policy shop, say current and former agency officials and congressional staff. "She is one of the best, or maybe the best, public servant I have worked with," said Chris Topik, who worked with Haze as an aide to former Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington. Dicks left Congress in early 2013 as the Appropriations Committee's top Democrat. "Her reliability is legendary." Her knowledge of the agency and its 70,000 employees is unparalleled, according to those who have worked with her. Described as a "rock star" by two Interior colleagues, Haze is credited with helping keep the department afloat during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the federal sequester and the government shutdown of October 2013. Her Interior career began in 1975 as a clerk for the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, an agency that was later folded into Interior's Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service before being abolished by former Interior Secretary James Watt during the Reagan administration...more

Oh yeah, Watt shut that Bureau down.  He came to DC first to work for Wyo. Senator Simpson, then did a stint at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  When Nixon was elected he held several positions at Interior, including heading up the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, so he had more than a little familiarity with the Bureau.

On exactly how this happened we turn to Perry Pendley's Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan's Battle With Environmental Extremists....  Pendley tells us that early on Secretary Watt and Under Secretary Hodel met with career employees and bureau chiefs. At one of those meetings "a career official from the Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service (HCRS) - the organization once headed by Watt when it was the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation - asked, 'Mr. Secretary, do you plan to abolish the HCRS?'  Without hesitating, Watt replied, 'Yes.'  Afterward, as Watt and Hodel strode down the hallway, Hodel asked, 'Jim, when did you decide to abolish the HCRS?' 'I decided to do it as soon as he asked the question,' said Watt. 'If an official asks if his agency is going to be abolished, then he knows the answer already.' "

Pendley also advises Interior requested a 15.3 percent cut in funding for the '82 budget.  Congress didn't go along, in fact over the entire Reagan administration Congress appropriated $4 billion more than Interior requested.  However, over that same period employees were reduced by 11 percent. Not exactly how things are done today.

My review of Pendley's book is here.  Better get yourself a copy, before Obama bans it by Executive Order.

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