Another Former Bush Administration Official Opts for Big Business

Maddy Sauer and Lisa Schwartz
December 29, 2006 9:57 AM

Former Interior Secretary Gale Norton has become the latest former Bush administration official to take a high paying job in the private sector for a company that deals directly with her former department.

Norton has accepted a position with Shell Oil as general counsel for exploration, production and unconventional resources. The company said today that in this role Norton will provide and coordinate legal services for Shell.

As secretary, Norton played a vital role in implementing the Bush administration's agenda to open up more government land to oil and gas drilling. Norton often touted the benefits of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.

Environmental groups accused Norton of putting politics before science in her decision-making as secretary. Norton often defended her department's policies saying they were a merging of environmental and business interests.

Norton's former department has jurisdiction over U.S.-affiliated islands, including Guam, which Shell Oil is now reportedly eying for future growth and expansion.

Environmental advocates are disappointed but not surprised by Norton's next job choice.

"Since President Bush came into office, there has been a two-way pipeline between the administration and the oil industry; so this shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone," said Karen Wayland, legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "She oversaw an agency that for years was overly deferential to the oil industry, failing to adequately pursue enforcement, granting a record number of drilling leases and failing to collect billions of dollars in royalties owed to taxpayers."

The Interior Department also regulates gambling on Indian tribal territory. Norton became a key figure in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal when it was alleged that Abramoff instructed one of his Indian tribe clients to give around $500,000 to a group founded by Norton and Bush ally Grover Norquist. Eventually, the tribe was given face time with Norton at a dinner. The tribe was hoping that a rival tribe would be denied approval from the Department of Interior to build a casino. Norton eventually did give permission for the rival tribe to build a casino.

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee later cleared Norton of any wrongdoing related to Abramoff, but they noted there were lingering questions about Abramoff's relationship with Norton's former top deputy, Steven Griles, who allegedly lobbied Norton at Abramoff's request not to grant permission to build the casino. Griles has denied any wrongdoing.

Norton joins a growing list of former Bush administration officials that have traded in their administration roles for lucrative jobs in the industries they once oversaw. Among others, former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge who, among other roles, is now on the board of directors at Savi Technology, which provides tracking hardware and software to the U.S. Department of Defense and international defense agencies to monitor cargo shipments.

Former Undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson joined a Washington, firm as the head of homeland security lobbying. Hutchinson later left the firm to make an unsuccessful bid for governor of Arkansas this year but is planning to return to his role there next month.

Meanwhile Griles, Norton's embattled No. 2 at the Interior Department, has himself returned to his pre-administration role as an energy industry lobbyist at a Washington, D.C. law firm.