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It should be abundantly clear by now that Dubya Inc. has a funny way of showing how fiscally conservative it is:

"The U.S. Interior Department inspector general concluded that the Bush administration offered in 2002 to overpay a prominent Florida family for oil and gas rights on Everglades land, according to people familiar with the matter.

"In a report to the Senate Finance Committee to be made public today, Inspector General Earl Devaney says the department nearly tripled earlier estimates of the value of the mineral rights, the three people said. The agreement wasn't completed and the people familiar with the situation said Devaney's findings would scuttle it.


"The report says that Ann Klee, a Bush administration political appointee, led the effort to reach an agreement with the Collier family shortly after she was named in January 2001 to administer the transition at the Interior Department between presidential administrations.

"Klee, and two Interior Department lawyers, Barry Roth and Peter Schaumberg, relied on a private sector estimate that recommended the $120 million payment after soliciting several appraisals, all of which were lower, Devaney's report says. It also says at least one career Interior Department official contested the high estimate.


Tina Kreisher, communications director at the Interior Department, declined to comment on Devaney's findings, except to say, ``We were trying very hard to protect the Everglades.''


"This is a sweetheart deal for one of the richest landowners in America'' that would have been financed by taxpayers, said Keith Ashdown, who has tracked the case for three years as vice president of tax policy at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based advocacy group that opposes government waste."

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