Summary of “Agency accused of violating law on remains, relics“, from the Reno-Gazette Journal, Associated Press:

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency, has directed the Department of the Interior (DOI) to begin a 60-day investigation over allegations that U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) officials violated the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act while managing collections of remains and artifacts amassed during the construction and management of dams and waterways throughout California, Nevada, and Oregon.

A whistleblower made formal complaints that USBR in Sacramento erased records within a DOI database and altered spreadsheets in an effort to hide mismanagement of collections under the agency’s control, resulting in artifacts being lost, boxed up for storage, and/or loaned to museums and universities without the ability to track them.

The watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility says that it hopes the inquiry will be expanded to cover more agencies and more areas of the American West.

Following a critical report by the Government Accountability Office in 2010, the DOI requested more money and at least eight years to bolster compliance with the law.  However, progress has been slow, and communication with tribes is still lacking, said D. Bambi Kraus, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Tribal Historic Preservation Officers. “It’s encouraging that this is being investigated,” she said.

A report filed with the Office of Special Counsel shows that Patrick Williams, who used to work as a museum specialist in archaeologist within the bureau’s Mid-Pacific office, did raise concerns with his supervisors that the agency was not complying with the law’s requirements once it stopped keeping detailed records of remains and artifacts. He also reported that the office was not filling out the proper paperwork when loaning out artifacts – essentially making the items untraceable.

Williams chose to leave his position after raising his concerns resulted in hostility and threats of termination. His supervisors told him creating detailed files of the remains and artifacts to comply with the law was “too complicated and required too much time and effort.”

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility said it wouldn’t be surprised if similar things were happening elsewhere given that budget constraints and other priorities are challenges throughout the agency.

Federal officials were unable to provide comment for this story, given that it is currently involved in the investigation.

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