As Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blasted many within his department for being disloyal to the Trump administration’s agenda this week, the agency’s inspector general’s office continued a probe into whether officials acted inappropriately when they abruptly reassigned dozens of senior workers.
Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall is working “to determine if the U.S. Department of the Interior followed appropriate guidelines and best practices in the reassignment of Senior Executive Service employees,” according to spokeswoman Gillian Carroll.
The reassigned workers include Joel Clement, a climate scientist who was removed from his job as director of policy analysis and reassigned to a revenue accounting position for which he has no experience. Clement became a whistleblower when he publicly complained about his switch from his longtime role, in which he assessed climate impact on Alaska Native communities.
The Trump administration’s goal to allow more coal mining, drilling and logging on public lands clashes with that of scientists and others at the agency who study the impact of fossil fuels and deforestation on global warming. The mission of other offices within Interior is to ensure that taxpayers get a fair share of royalties from mineral excavation and that corporations pay the cost of restoring land disrupted during mining, drilling and logging operations.
During a speech Monday to oil and gas executives, Zinke vowed to shift policymaking decisions in the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Reclamation away from Washington and to Western states. The BLM controls 245 million acres on the surface — a tenth of all the land in the United States — as well as 700 million acres of the nation’s mineral-rich underground.
Zinke is also seeking to reduce staffing by up to 4,000 workers as a cost-cutting measure in line with the president’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget. In a Senate hearing in June, he said reassignment is one of the tools he’ll use to meet budgetary goals. Interior declined to respond when asked if another round of reassignments is imminent — a rumor making its way through the department.
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