Senate leader trying to dislodge hold on Interior nominee

A hold by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on President Bush's nominee to head the Fish and Wildlife Service has prompted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to try to end the impasse.

Bush nominated Lyle Laverty to be assistant secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks March 26. Wyden announced his hold four days later because of problems associated with former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Julie MacDonald.

MacDonald resigned May 1 after a review by the department's inspector general in March found she had given government documents to industry lobbyists. Wyden is seeking assurances that the Interior Department will review MacDonald's actions and attempt to prevent similar incidents.

"We haven't received the concrete assurances that we've been looking for yet," a Wyden spokeswoman said.

Reid offered an apology of sorts to the Bush administration for the delay.

"I want those in the White House and [Interior] Secretary Kempthorne's office who are watching to know I have done my best to clear [Laverty], whom Secretary Kempthorne badly needs, he says, and I believe that," Reid said in comments in the Oct. 4 Congressional Record. "But I have been unable to do that. We have a member on our side with whom I have worked all afternoon. We thought we had it done once, and it did not work out."

Reid added he is confident they will work out a deal and hoped Kempthorne "recognizes we will do what we can on the Monday or Tuesday we get back to see if we can clear this."

An Interior Department spokesman said Kempthorne has spoken with Reid and made the point that the assistant secretary position has been vacant since 2005 and Laverty "is extremely well qualified for the position, and it is important that he be confirmed quickly so that he can get to work."

Kempthorne, who served a term in the Senate, "has a great working relationship with Sen. Reid," the spokesman added.

Wyden's spokeswoman said, "There have been some discussions with leadership, but I don't have any progress to report."

Wyden also cites the inspector general's findings in charging that MacDonald forced Fish and Wildlife Service scientists and staff to alter findings, including shrinking the nesting range of the endangered southwest willow flycatcher so it does not cross into California where MacDonald's in-laws owned a ranch.

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