"Work-focused" trip for Interior chief of staff: white-water rafting

While the Obama administration tries to sell its response to the Gulf spill as complete and total from the first moments, ABC’s Jake Tapper reports that one of the men supposedly leading the effort was knee-deep in the water.  Unfortunately, Interior chief of staff Ted Strickland wasn’t in the warm waters of the Gulf, but in the Grand Canyon on what the White House called a business-related trip.  Maybe they should consider moving Strickland’s travel arrangements to something more modern that careening through white-water rapids:

Though his agency was charged with coordinating the federal response to the major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Department of the Interior chief of staff Tom Strickland was in the Grand Canyon with his wife last week participating in activities that included white-water rafting, ABC News has learned.

Other leaders of the Interior Department were focused on the Gulf, joined by other agencies and literally thousands of other employees. But Strickland’s participation in a trip that administration officials insisted was “work-focused” raised eyebrows among other Obama administration officials and even within even his own department, sources told ABC News.

Strickland, who also serves as Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, was in the Grand Canyon with his wife Beth for a total of three days, including one day of rafting. Beth Strickland paid her own way, Obama administration officials said.

Well, they did upgrade his travel method eventually:

The Stricklands departed for the Grand Canyon three days after the leaks in the Deepwater Horizon pipeline were discovered.  Ultimately, after the government realized that the spill was worse than had been previously thought, officials decided that Strickland was needed in the Gulf so Strickland was taken out of the Grand Canyon by a National Park Service helicopter.

Officially, the administration insists that Strickland’s trip was work-related.  He went to the Grand Canyon to discuss meaty issues like humpback chub and tamarisk controls.  At least, I assume those are meaty, especially the humpback chub.  It’s apparently is a higher priority than the cleanup in the Gulf, as is the whitewater rafting trip.

Unofficially, Tapper’s sources wonder what Strickland was thinking.  As chief of staff to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, one would have presumed that Strickland could have put off the pressing humpback-chub crisis in order to deal with the more minor problem of thousands of barrels of oil rolling up on Louisiana’s shores.  “Work-focused” whitewater rafting sounds a lot like a vacation in the middle of a disaster, and the list of issues that Interior’s spokesperson claims Strickland was addressing is almost a parody of bad prioritization.

And even if there weren’t a disaster in the Gulf unfolding when Strickland left, couldn’t every one of those issues have been addressed via telephone or video conference?  For a department that sounds so concerned about carbon emissions, they seem rather unconcerned about their own travel and carbon footprint, right down to that helicopter that rescued Strickland from his own bad sense of timing.

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