Interior Department Solicitor Meets with Recreation Community


Contact: Derrick Crandall

Interior Department Solicitor Meets with Recreation Community

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s newly named Solicitor recently met with recreation community leaders at the American Recreation Coalition’s July Recreation Exchange. Sue Ellen Wooldridge was named to her position by President Bush effective June 1, 2004. As head of the office that is responsible for providing legal advice to the Secretary of the Interior and to the Interior Department’s agencies and offices, she was frank about the challenges inherent in formulating a unified legal position for a department that contains such disparate entities as the Fish and Wildlife Service, with its threatened and endangered species role, and the Bureau of Reclamation, which is largely responsible for generating power and delivering water to agricultural customers.

Ms. Wooldridge emphasized her belief that advice provided by the Solicitor’s office should focus on legal issues, not policy issues. “We want to give the best legal advice we can,” she said. Answers to questions about a particular course of action should not be, “No, you can’t,” if what is really meant is, “No, you shouldn’t.” That second answer is a policy answer, she explained, not a legal one, and should be avoided. Instead, if a possible course of action is legal, she said, but not without some complicating factors, then the advice of the Solicitor’s office should be, “Yes, you can, but this is what to expect,” or, “Yes, you can, but I advise you not to.”

Since the Solicitor’s office plays a key role in reviewing potential partnerships with the private sector, Ms. Wooldridge was asked how a potential partner should proceed when a legal review slows down the formation of a partnership. She replied that a Partnership Primer was being prepared jointly by her office and Interior Secretary Norton’s “4C’s Partnership and Collaboration Team” to help facilitate the partnership process. The primer will contain each Interior agency’s legal authorities for initiating partnerships, she reported, as well as examples of partnership projects. It will also include the answers to more than 150 partnership-related questions.

After noting the significant effort involved in assembling a common resource like the Partnership Primer, Ms. Wooldridge spoke further about some of the procedural challenges facing the Solicitor’s office. “We need to have knowledge management,” she said, describing efforts to put systems in place that would: determine what work is being done – and by whom – within the Solicitor’s office; pinpoint each staff member’s areas of expertise; and organize previously prepared opinions and briefs for use as reference and as the basis for further action. She also mentioned the immense challenge the office faces because all members of her 400+-person staff are prohibited by court order from using the Internet to communicate – and have been for much of the past three years. The court’s action is premised upon legal disputes over Native American trust funds.

(August 3, 2004)

The Recreation Exchange series is made possible by the following sponsors:

American Association for Nude Recreation
American Horse Council
American Motorcyclist Association
Bureau of Reclamation
Kampgrounds of America
Marina Operators Association of America
Motorcycle Industry Council
National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds
National Marine Manufacturers Association
National Park Service
National Recreation and Park Association
Personal Watercraft Industry Association
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association
Recreation Vehicle Industry Association
SGMA International
USDA Forest Service