March 10, 2006 — Gale Norton, George Bush's Secretary of Interior, is leaving office this month, she announced in Washington on Friday.
The media covered her announcement by pointing out her pro-economic development – as opposed to pro-environmental – positions on various issues, and by reminding readers of the ties some of her colleagues had with the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
A Department of the Interior insider, however, suggested to the Source that she left because it is "a thankless job" and that whoever holds it inherits "impossible chores" such as the decades-old problem of payments to hundreds of thousands of Indians for their oil royalties, and "perpetual squabbles" such as those between the developers and the environmentalists.
"Nobody is ever satisfied about either of these issues," he said.
The Department of the Interior is probably more important to island territories than it is to most mainland communities because of its dual role vis-à-vis the islands.
Not only does Interior house the Park Service, which operates significant parks in the U.S. Virgin Islands, it also serves as the central federal government contract for the island governments,
through its Office of Insular Affairs.
Norton was working on both of these aspects of the Interior-islands relations during at least one visit to the Virgin Islands. (See "Norton: We Must Balance Protection, Growth").
In addition to recharging her batteries, Norton may be thinking about a return to elective politics in her home state of Colorado, insiders speculated. She had served for eight years, 1991-1999, as the elective attorney general of Colorado, and six years into that position she sought the Republican nomination to the U.S. Senate, but lost to Sen. Wayne Allard.
According to the Denver Post "Norton's tenure was also marked by
repeated ethical controversies. Norton cleared her top deputy, former
lobbyist J. Steven Griles, after her inspector general said Grille's conduct showed that the department's ethics system was a 'train
wreck waiting to happen.' Griles is now under investigation for
allegations that he did the bidding of convicted Indian casino lobbyist
The Bureau of Indian Affairs is a major component of the Department.
The Department also handles most of the public land in the West, and
during Norton's tenure rules on grazing, mining and drilling were
eased to the pleasure of big business and to the displeasure of
A long-time civil servant noted that while many Interior staffers disliked her political priorities, they found her hard-working and clear-headed. "The trips she took through the West were rugged and tiring but she kept making them."
No immediate replacement for her was discerned in the press coverage of her departure. But it was suggested that whoever gets the White House nod will get an exciting confirmation hearing, with both the Abramoff and the environmental issues sure to be raised by Senate Democrats.
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