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Federal agency makes mockery of responsibility

Tales of deception, thievery and corruption seem to be a constant in Washington, especially in recent years. Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a congressional microscope, with $45 million reported missing.

This isn’t another partisan political feud. Funds have been stolen from excise taxes paid by wildlife enthusiasts, money they didn’t mind paying because it was earmarked, by law, for conservation. Instead, the money has been traced to accounts for which no one will claim responsibility. Exotic trips have been taken, claims have arisen that sensitive financial records have “vanished” and a USFWS employee has testified that he was fired for not allocating money to anti-hunting groups — clearly a violation of the statutes governing the allocation of the excise tax funds.

The Government Accounting Office and the House Resources Committee, chaired by Representative Don Young (R-Alaska), are accusing the USFWS of diverting money raised by the Dingell-Johnson Act and the Pittman-Robertson Act. Established in 1950, the Dingell-Johnson Act levies a 10 percent tax on fishing equipment, motorboat fuel and some boat imports. The Pittman-Robertson Act, established in 1937, levies an 11 percent excise tax on sporting arms, ammunition and other equipment and a 10 percent tax on handguns. Both acts mandate that the money generated by these taxes be reapportioned back to the states in the form of grants for programs that “benefit fish and wildlife.”

While charts and statistics painted an eye-opening picture of how business is conducted at the USFWS, the most dramatic testimony of the hearing came from Bonnie Kline, a computer specialist with the Service, who told of the pressure that had been put on her after cooperating with investigators.

Reading from a statement, Kline said, “Senior officials at the (USFWS) escorted me into a nonpublic balcony and threatened me with the loss of my job and the destruction of my career if I cooperated with the Office of Special Council investigating the Jim Beers case. Subsequently, after providing an affadavit in the Beers case…my nightmare began. Now my career and health have been destroyed and my children are frightened. I’ve been threatened verbally and physically.”

Two years ago, Jim Beers was a wildlife biologist in the Federal Aid Washington office. It was his job to review and make recommendations as to what national grants should be funded with money from the Pittman-Robertson Act. But in 1997, Beers says he was ordered to sign a grant that would have given money to The Fund for Animals to print anti-hunting literature. He refused because, he said, “it failed on four counts to be eligible.”

Shortly thereafter “a letter was slipped under my door. It said that if I didn’t retire by Friday, I’d be fired and lose my pension after 31 years of service. It was unsigned. The next day two police officers showed up at my office looking to lead me off the premises, but thankfully, at the advice of my lawyer, I had stayed at home.” Beers has considered it his mission to make the USFWS’s alleged funding abuses public.

For the combined 111 years of the two acts, sportsmen have paid the taxes willingly, with the belief that the money was going to the benefit of wildlife. These recent revelations demand an answer.

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