How is Secretary Kempthorne Doing After Year One?

Dirk Kempthorne is sworn in as Secretary of the Interior; White House photo by Eric Draper.

President George W. Bush stands with former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne as he is sworn-in as the new U.S. Secretary of Interior by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, left, Wednesday, June 7, 2006 on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C.. White House photo by Eric Draper [source].

On June 7, 2006, Dirk Kempthorne was sworn in as the new Secretary of the Interior, answering the call of President George Bush to replace the retiring Gale Norton. The Department of the Interior had been going through terrible scandal before Kempthorne's arrival. So how are things going today? The Seattle Times published an article this week reviewing the last year.

Kempthorne puts new face on Interior Department

Democrats and Republicans alike praise him for pumping more money into national parks, repairing the department's relationships with Congress, and moving beyond the scandals that damaged the agency in recent years.

Kempthorne even pleased skeptical environmentalists last December by proposing to list the polar bear as threatened because of thinning sea ice caused by global warming.

At the same time, he has continued Bush's controversial policies that favor oil and gas development on public lands, and his department has added no species to the endangered-species list since he became Interior secretary.

But Kempthorne asked Dicks what he wanted from Interior. Dicks talked about the reduction of the Park Service's budget and the problems it was causing, particularly in Washington state. Kempthorne committed himself to fixing that.

In September, on the 90th anniversary of the National Park Service, Kempthorne announced the Centennial Project to improve and restore national parks. He vowed that the agency would raise $3 billion in public and private money by 2016 for the effort.

"That was very astute on his part," said Dave Alberswerth of the Wilderness Society. "What's the most popular public service? It's not the IRS," he said, laughing. "It's the Park Service."


I think he comes into the administration at a good time -- a time when the president is attempting to polish up his legacy and Kempthorne is there to wave the flag on his behalf. There's only so much the head of the Interior can do... he or she is basically a puppet of the president with some limited ability to package and present it with his or her personality. That being said, I was present last December when he addressed the crowd at Antietam on a very cold evening during the battlefield illumination. The power went out on the loudspeaker system and he kept on going without hitch. Turns out he had a great-great-grand-somebody who fought on that battlefield and it was a rather moving speech especially with no amplification. Kinda made me feel like I had stepped back in time to the Civil War days when someone of importance stepped up on the soapbox and gave a speech there on hallowed ground, with all the onlookers inching closer trying to hear what he had to say. I enjoyed his speech very much.

-- Jon