National | Politics

Echo Hawk kept BIA regional director on overextended detail

Former Assistant Secretary Larry Echo Hawk allowed a Bureau of Indian Affairs official who was being investigated to spend more than two years on detail in Washington, D.C., the Office of Inspector General at the Interior Department said in a report obtained by Indianz.Com on Tuesday.

Echo Hawk assigned Jeanette Hanna, a member of the Seminole Nation, to work in his office while she was on leave as regional director for Eastern Oklahoma. She stayed in DC from January 12, 2010, through February 25, 2012, for a total of 775 days -- far longer than the 240 days permitted by federal regulations, the OIG said.

When an Interior Department official was asked about the extended stay, she simply told the OIG: "I think it's a waste."

Hanna continued to draw her salary as regional director while she was on detail in DC. But she incurred additional costs for lodging and a vehicle, for a total of $177,799, the report said.

In both instances, the OIG characterized Hanna's situation as wasteful. She maintained lodging near the BIA's office in DC even though she regularly returned home to Oklahoma, the report said.

Overall, she was in Oklahoma for 283 days out of the 775 days she spent on detail, the OIG determined. At a nightly rate of $117, the lodging cost the BIA an extra $33,111.

Hanna was also allowed to rent a sports utility vehicle rather than a compact car as required by federal policy. She kept the more costly vehicle up until December 2011, or nearly the entire time she was on detail, the report said.

In total, the BIA spent $30,175 on Hanna's SUV. Had she gone with a smaller car, the government would have saved an estimated $10,495, according to the report.

During her time in DC, Hanna attempted to be reimbursed for 100 percent of her per diem costs even though she was only allowed to claim 55 percent, the OIG said. Two employees who caught the mistake, however, were told by BIA Chief Financial Officer Vicky Forrest to "cease and desist" their efforts, according to the report.

One of those employees was later demoted by Forrest but she told the OIG it was due to his "lack of knowledge and management ability" and not because of his questions about Hanna, whom she acknowledged is a friend. This employee, whose name is redacted in the report, is due to retire later this week, Indianz.Com was told this morning.

Hanna's travel expenses, including her lodging, her SUV and her requests for a larger per diem, were approved and supported by Paul Tsosie, who was Echo Hawk's chief of staff, the report said. He left the BIA in April 2012, along with Echo Hawk.

"I probably should have caught it," Tsosie told the OIG when asked about Hanna's expenses. "I probably should have stopped it."

Before they left office, Echo Hawk and Tsosie created a permanent position for Hanna in DC, where she remains. Her old position as regional director was finally filled by Robert Impson, an employee in the office, after a vacancy of more than two years.

DOI Inspector General Report:
Jeanette Hanna (August 2012)

Related Stories:
Inspector General Reports: Larry Echo Hawk, Jeanette Hanna (4/30)
Echo Hawk creates new post for director under investigation (4/)
BIA lists job opening for Eastern Oklahoma's regional director (4/2)
In the Loop: BIA's regional director goes missing in action (3/28)
BIA regional office goes without director for over two years (3/22)
BIA faces leadership void among regional director level (2/2)
BIA official in Eastern Oklahoma placed on leave (11/9)