John D. Ward has decided to resign after less than six months as head of the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining, department sources confirmed yesterday. Ward has been acting as the OSM director since last November, and his Senate confirmation hearing was expected to be held this month.
Interior officials said Ward informed Secretary Donald Hodel of his decision Monday, saying that his family did not wish to move from its home in Denver. Ward is expected to transfer to another Interior Department job in the Denver area, officials said.
But sources outside the department said that Hodel requested the resignation in the wake of a series of embarrassing revelations about lax enforcement of federal strip-mining laws.
Last year, a House Government Operations subcommittee described the office as being in a state of "virtual collapse," and in a hearing last month the same panel found conditions not much improved.
Congressional and General Accounting Office investigators have found OSM records being kept in shoeboxes. Last October, a federal judge ordered the office to collect more than $150 million in unpaid fines against strip-mining companies, some of which had been uncollected since shortly after the strip-mining law was passed in 1978.
Interior sources contended yesterday that the department has made progress in correcting OSM's problems, and said that Ward's departure would not slow those efforts.
But Ward apparently will not be replaced by an acting director. According to Interior officials, OSM will be run after his departure by a management committee headed by Jed Christensen, who works in the water and science office.