Wednesday, November 07, 2018

DuBois column, 'The BLM and Budd-Falen, I come clean with Jim Watt, and a DuBois “F”

The BLM and Budd-Falen, I come clean with Jim Watt, and a DuBois “F”


Many of us have been hoping for almost two years now that Wyoming attorney Karen Budd-Falen would be appointed Director of the Bureau of Land Management. She had served on Trump’s transition committee for the Department of Interior and seemed like a natural for the position, but that was not to be. Instead, she has accepted an appointment as Deputy Solicitor for Wildlife and Parks. Budd-Falen will provide legal counsel on issues regarding the programs and activities of the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the biological research functions of the Geological Survey. She will also provide counsel on matters involving “the acquisition and administration of the National Parks and wildlife refuges, the designation of wild and scenic rivers and wilderness areas, historic preservation, law enforcement, First Amendment activities, environmental protection, grants-in-aid, and endangered species protection.” As you can see, that is not an insignificant position in the Socilitor’s office.

In a recent interview Budd-Falen disclosed it was the strict interpretation of conflicts of interest by the ethics office that eventually led to her not being appointed as Director of BLM. First she was asked to leave her position at the law firm she founded, and to this she agreed. She also  agreed to withdraw from her current cases. Then she agreed to recuse herself from any cases involving the Department of the Interior. But that was not all. They then insisted a change in the name of the law firm, which was okeh.  Next, they said her husband Frank Falen, could not accept any cases involving the department, and finally determined he shouldn’t practice law at all. To all this they agreed. Then came the final demand: she would have to sell her interest in the ranch which had been in her family for five generations and Frank Falen would have to divest himself of any interest in his family’s ranch in Nevada. That’s where Budd-Falen drew the line and said no.

Altogether, a sad tale, but she should have seen the last one coming. The BLM regulations on ethical standards say, “…employees and their spouses and their minor children are prohibited from acquiring or retaining any claim, permit, lease, small tract entries, or other rights that are granted by the Department in Federal lands.”

I remember from my time at Interior that Bob Burford ran into the same issue. He had to sell his interest in his ranches to a partnership controlled by his ex-wife and his three sons. This still did not satisfy the ethics office because Burford owned 25 percent of the partnership, and the ethics officials said he still had a “retention of interest”. Finally, Secretary Jim Watt granted Burford a waiver after Burford assured the ethics office that he would "recuse (excuse) himself from making any decisions which directly affect" the grazing permits. It sure seems that Interior could have made some type of similar accommodation for Budd-Falen.

All of this reminds me of when I had to “come clean” with Secretary Watt. Everyone had to go through an FBI background check. Given all the places I had lived in college and the many places I had worked construction jobs (from California to New Jersey), I came up with 47 different addresses where I had lived, so I’m sure they had fun running down all the goods on me.

Here was the problem: I had been thrown in jail four times. Once for drinking while a minor, and three times for either public affray or assault and battery, i.e., fighting. Many of Reagan’s appointees to Interior and other agencies had been controversial because they had to sell stocks, bonds, or otherwise divest themselves of interests in businesses or firms because of conflicts of interest. The media was going over all these appointments for either anti-Reagan or anti-Watt stories. Normally, a lowly deputy assistant secretary appointment would go unnoticed, but given this atmosphere I was sure that most probably would not be the case. I had been working as a Special Assistant until my final appointment went through, and I just hadn’t worked up the nerve to tell Watt what was probably in my FBI report.

One day I was waiting to get on the elevator, and the head of Congressional Affairs stepped out and said, “Congratulations Frank, I just saw Watt sign your papers.” Oh, no. I immediately went back to my office to schedule a visit with the Secretary. He had left for the day, so I went to Under Secretary Don Hodel’s office, and told him I really needed to talk to the Secretary about my background report. Hodel said he would have Watt call me when he got home.

The call finally came and I asked Watt if he had read the background report before signing my papers. He said no, so I told him about all the arrests. Watt only had one question, “Did any of these events happen in the last ten years?” I said no and he said then he wasn’t going to worry about it but thanked me for the alert. 

The announcement of my appointment went out and the response was…nothing. Whew! I guess if you are a po’boy, with no stocks or bonds, you can drink and fight and the media doesn’t care.  My only conflicts had been with other people.

Hamburger “F”s

In a recent report Consumers Union has given an “F” to 22 out of the 25 burger joints studied for not serving beef that was certified as being raised antibiotic free. Among those given a failing grade were some familiar names, like McDonalds, Burger King, Sonic Drive-ins and Jack in a Box. Some may consider this a failing grade or a terrible report on their products. That is not the case if you interpret the “F” appropriately. In this case, the “F” stands for flavorful, fantastic, filling, fabulous, finest, first-class, fragrant and first-rate. So be sure and visit those establishments given a DuBois “F”.

Until next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.

Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner ( and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship and The DuBois Western Heritage Foundation

This column first appeared in the November editions of the NM Stockman and the Livestock Market Digest 


Anonymous said...

Jim Watt was head and shoulders above any of our current bureaucratic clowns.

Anonymous said...

Same comment regarding Karen........way above these clowns.