Election Section

Congressman questions impartiality of BIA official

By Don Thompson, The Associated Press
Friday May 03, 2002

SACRAMENTO — A second congressman raised questions Thursday about a top Interior Department official’s impartiality in dealing with West Coast Indian tribes. 

U.S. Rep. Doug Ose, R-Sacramento, questioned whether Wayne Smith, Interior’s deputy assistant secretary for Indian affairs, could act fairly while being lobbied by a former colleague at the California attorney general’s office. 

Federal ethics regulations required Smith to get advance permission to consider the matters if there is a professional relationship “that would cause a reasonable person with knowledge of the relevant facts to question his impartiality,” Ose said. 

Attorney Tracey Buck-Walsh, who worked with Smith at the attorney general’s office, is a registered lobbyist for the United Auburn Indian Community of Placer County and the Pechanga tribe of Temecula Valley. 

Ose noted that Interior spokesman Eric Ruff told The Associated Press Smith would disqualify himself from considering the Pechanga’s land acquisition, only to be corrected by Smith himself later the same day. 

Ose’s natural resources subcommittee of the Governmental Reform Committee oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs, where Smith is the No. 2 official. His letter Thursday was to Smith’s boss, Assistant Secretary Neal McCaleb. 

“All of this is being reviewed internally,” said BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling, who said she hadn’t seen the letter. Smith asked the FBI and Interior’s inspector general to investigate. 

“This project has been scrutinized by both the Clinton and the Bush administrations for over six years,” said Auburn spokesman Doug Elmets. “It’s clear that there is no conflict whatsoever.”