FARMINGTON — The director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has asked federal investigators to reopen an inquiry into a former Farmington BLM manager.

Steve Henke faces renewed questions regarding his tenure leading the BLM's Farmington office after a previous investigation found he accepted golf vacations and other gifts from the oil and gas industry. The call for further investigation indicates Henke's problems are not resolved.

BLM Director Bob Abbey "has new information, and he has referred that information to the inspector general," said Celia Boddington, a bureau spokeswoman.

Abbey, in an Oct. 18 letter to Interior Department Acting Inspector General Mary Kendall, requests the office "renew its investigative inquiries regarding certain questionable activities that may have occurred during the tenure of Steve Henke," including activities that "eventually led to his employment by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association."

Until resigning in May in retirement from the BLM, Henke served for nine years as district manager of the BLM's Farmington field office. He is now president of the oil and gas association, a trade group that advocates for industry interests.

Henke did not return messages seeking comment Monday.

The renewed investigation may be prompted by documents unearthed by a Washington, D.C., watchdog group, the Project on Government Oversight.


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The group has published online numerous documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act pertaining to Henke's tenure at the BLM.

Among them is an application "writing assignment" sent from Henke's BLM e-mail address to a human resources firm representing the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association.

In the May 4 e-mail message, Henke writes that he "inherited a dysfunctional organization" when he was appointed Farmington district manager in 2001.

Henke said he called a meeting of all BLM Farmington employees the day after his appointment, telling them "unequivocally" that the Farmington district was "back in the oil and gas business, because it is in the public interest to do so."

The e-mail also discusses protecting the oil and gas industry from tax hikes and additional regulation.

The documents make clear that Henke sought a job as president of the industry association while he oversaw the BLM's Farmington office. They also show that a BLM human resources specialist cleared Henke to seek employment with the association.

The Interior Department has come under fire for what critics say is a cozy relationship between government regulators and industry insiders. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has announced plans to split the Minerals Management Service, which is part of the Interior Department, into three separate agencies following a series of lapses, including some leading up to the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The links between government and industry were not limited to off-shore drilling, said Mandy Smithberger, a Project on Government Oversight investigator.

"This coziness occurred onshore also, and it's just as difficult to figure out what is the appropriate arms-length relationship," she said.

"It's appropriate for the inspector general to conduct an investigation to see if anything was wrong, and hopefully there wasn't."

Henke retired from the BLM shortly after the bureau initiated an investigation into golf trips and other gifts he received from oil and gas companies he was charged with regulating.

A report from the Interior Department's Office of the Inspector General earlier this year found Henke accepted a trip to the 2007 PGA Championship in Tulsa, Okla., that was paid for by Williams Exploration and Production.

Henke said he repaid the expenses for another golf trip arranged by Williams, this one to the Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Ga., in April 2009. Henke also requested $8,000 in donations from Williams to support his son's youth baseball teams, the report said.

Henke has denied wrongdoing in the incidents.

It is unclear how long the inspector general's office will take to investigate Henke's tenure in Farmington. A spokesman for the office did not return messages Monday requesting additional information.

Investigators already have uncovered discouraging information regarding Henke, said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator for San Juan Citizens Alliance, a regional environmental group.

"Anytime you have a high-ranking public official who has failed the public ethically, it's a concern," Eisenfeld said.

Chuck Slothower: cslothower@daily-times.com