Interior’s Musical Chairs Spin out of Control

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For Immediate Release: Jun 11, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Interior’s Musical Chairs Spin out of Control

Complaints Mount as Sagebrush Rebel Installed Over Wildlife and Parks

Washington, DC — The Secretary of Interior keeps illegally shuffling political officials into jobs requiring Senate confirmation, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The latest move places a controversial property rights lawyer associated with the infamous Bundy Clan and right-wing militias to oversee all Interior actions by both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service.

On May 23, 2019, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt quietly signed the 27th version of an order purporting to delegate duties of presidentially appointed positions to a series of acting officials. In this latest order, Bernhardt taps Karen Budd-Falen for the role of Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. Budd-Falen has spent her career challenging the legitimacy of federal wildlife protections in addition to fighting grazing regulations and other land use authority as part of the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion.

“Putting Karen Budd-Falen in this position is like putting Genghis Khan in charge of a day care center,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins, pointing out that she was previously slotted into an Interior deputy solicitor job that required no Senate review. “Since David Bernhardt knows Budd-Falen is so right wing that she could never be confirmed for the job he just gave her, this maneuver only underlines the Administration’s continuing contempt for the Senate’s constitutional advice and consent prerogative.”

Budd-Falen is the fourth person to temporarily fill this job under former Secretary Ryan Zinke or David Bernhardt, although an actual presidential nominee, Rob Wallace, is finally trudging toward confirmation. The White House’s aversion to the nomination process has also left the offices of the Directors of the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) vacant. No nominees are even pending for those key leadership roles after 2 ½ years. Altogether, Interior has far more low-level political appointees in its top positions than it has officials who have been Senate-confirmed.

PEER has filed a series of complaints about the illegality of these attempts to circumvent Senate confirmation, the latest filed today with the Department’s Inspector General concerning actions that were claimed to have been taken by the “BLM Director” when the office was vacant. Decisions being made by improperly acting officials may invalidate the legitimacy of Trump’s months-long effort to undo protections across six states for the sage grouse in order to facilitate oil and gas drilling.

Today, PEER also filed a lawsuit against Secretary Bernhardt’s office for failure to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests seeking communications about his elaborate efforts to keep in place lower-level political appointees who violate requirements of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act to properly fill an “acting” designation.

“David Bernhardt is running Interior through a succession of shadow puppets,” added Jenkins. “Not only does the Senate lack an opportunity to question these people in open session but Interior is refusing to produce the paper trail explaining how and why these illicit acting officials got elevated.”


Look at Bernhardt’s latest delegation

See PEER’s complaint to the Interior IG:

Examine Interior’s ongoing Federal Vacancies Act violations

View PEER’s new FOIA lawsuit

Read the PEER “Bernhardt’s Bad Actors” report

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