January 10, 2009

Kempthorne flushes Indians down toilet

Kempthorne’s last days marked by criticism over lavish spendingAccording to a report published Jan. 5 by The Washington Post, Kempthorne spent about $235,000 in taxpayer funds renovating a seldom used bathroom in his fifth-floor office. Interior officials told the paper that the renovations were made in 2008.

The expensive additions included the installation of a new shower, a refrigerator and a freezer. Wainscot wood panels, pricey tiles and monogrammed towels were also part of the package, according to the report.

The General Services Administration reportedly approved and partially funded the project, and an investigation by the department’s inspector general, Earl Devaney, found no wrongdoing on the secretary’s behalf because the GSA had approved the project.

Still, several news outlets and opinion leaders have derided what they’ve labeled lavish and unnecessary spending by Kempthorne, whose department encompasses the BIA.

Some American Indian leaders have found the bathroom imbroglio to be especially unsettling, since the interior, under Kempthorne, has argued that it should not have to pay financial settlements to American Indian plaintiffs of the ongoing Cobell v. Kempthorne trust fund lawsuit.

The case, which has gone through numerous appeals since it was first filed in 1996, involves approximately 500,000 American Indian plaintiffs who have made strong arguments that their trust assets have for decades been mismanaged by interior officials.

“I find it incredible that [Kempthorne] would spend so wastefully in this limited budget environment,” said W. Ron Allen, who serves on the executive board of the National Congress of American Indians and is chairman of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe.

“Indian country has so many needs, and it seems he has little qualms about just flushing our financial concerns down the toilet. … It’s not just him, either–but a host of government officials who just don’t care how they spend in the remaining days of an administration.”
Comment:  For more on the subject, see How the US Honors Indians and Bush Slaps Tribes in Face.

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