Report: Interior Chief Vacations During Oil Spill

Asst. Interior Secretary Tom Strickland In Grand Canyon After Leaks Found

One of the key government officials responsible for coordinating the cleanup of a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was in the Grand Canyon with his wife white-water rafting, while the oil gushed uncontrolled, ABC News reported.

Department of the Interior chief of staff Tom Strickland left for the Grand Canyon three days after the leaks at the Deepwater Horizon pipeline were found. Strickland is a former Colorado district attorney and former candidate for U.S. Senate.

The Obama administration has described Strickland's trip as "work-focused" but the vacation has raised eyebrows as literally thousands of other employees worked to contain the spill.

Strickland's trip lasted three days and included a full day of white-water rafting, sources told ABC News.

Strickland, who also serves as the Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, was forced to cancel his vacation once the administration knew the spill was worse that had been previously reported. He was flown out of the Grand Canyon by a National Park Service helicopter.

Citing an anonymous government source, ABC News reported that some Interior Department employees thought it was "irresponsible" for Strickland to have gone on the trip, given the crisis in the Gulf.

The White House has aggressively refuted any claims that the federal government did not immediately respond to the crisis.

When asked about the trip, Interior Department press secretary Kendra Barkoff told ABC News that “the federal government has been all over this issue from day one in a unified coordinated response.”

The source said Strickland met with the director of the National Park Service and the Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent on such matters as river flows, beach erosion, safety and wilderness management.

The White House has provided a day to day timeline showing their response in terms of numbers of response vessels, feet of boom deployed, oily water recovered and overall personnel responding.

Strickland ran unsuccessfully for the US Senate in 1996 and 2002.

On January 22, 2009, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar said that at the department he and Strickland will "hold people accountable. We will expect to be held accountable.”