No Direction – National Park Service and BLM to be Run by Lower Deputies for 3 Years

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For Immediate Release: Oct 02, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Trump and Bernhardt Continue to Deny Senate Role in Confirming Directors

Washington, DC–  Yesterday Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced a continuing plan to evade the Senate’s power to provide “advice and consent” for the leaders of the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). He signed a Temporary redelegation of Authority Order – the 29th such Order since Donald Trump’s inauguration – appointing lower officials to carry out “all functions, duties and responsibilities” of the Directors of those agencies, but without going through Senate confirmation as required for their true Directors. Most prominent are Mr. Bernhardt’s re-delegation of William Pendley as de facto leader of the BLM and his new delegation of David Vela as de facto leader of the Park Service. The newest Order will extend into January of 2020, amounting to three years of these two massive Federal land management agencies lacking confirmed leaders.

The Constitution is clear: Article II, Section 2, mandates: “[The President] …. by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States….” However, Mr. Trump prefers lower-level appointees and is refusing to nominate a BLM or Park Service Director. In the process Trump has refused to comply with the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA), which does allow him to appoint “acting” Directors temporarily, typically for no more than 210 days.

“There is nothing temporary about Mr. Trump’s nearly three-year old refusal to name a Director for BLM or the Park Service,” said Peter Jenkins, PEER’s senior counsel. “It amounts to a permanent denial of the Senate’s role — par for the course for this lawless President. Senators should stop the illegal game of ‘musical chairs’ in the Interior Department leadership and demand their Constitutional role back”.

William Pendley is a far-right Sagebrush Rebellion lawyer who had proposed selling off millions of acres of Federal lands. The BLM manages one in every 10 acres of land in the United States, all of which could become private if Pendley were able to carry out his earlier proposal. Until this past December he worked for 30 years as President of the arch-conservative Mountain States Legal Foundation. The Federal law that created BLM requires the Director to “have a broad background and substantial experience in public land and natural resource management”. Lawyer Pendley lacks those management qualifications. Further, he has pushed the highly controversial move of the BLM Headquarters from Washington, DC, to Grand Junction, Colorado.

David Vela replaces P. Daniel Smith, who had a very checkered reputation. Smith was initially named as “acting Director” of the Park Service, but not by the President, rather by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. As PEER has shown, Mr. Smith’s appointment violated FVRA. He also carried out several actions that were the exclusive domain of either a Senate-confirmed Park Service Director or a Presidentially-appointed “acting” Director under FVRA. These included: naming Mr. Vela as the Service’s Deputy Director and masquerading in the Director’s “ex officio” roles with the National Parks Foundation and the National Park System Advisory Board. Most recently, he issued a directive to all National Parks to treat electronic “e-bikes” the same as traditional bicycles within the Parks, even though the Service’s regulations make clear that they do not meet the agency’s legal definition of a bicycle. And he lacked the authority to issue the directive.

“Despite Dan Smith’s welcome ride into the sunset on a sputtering e-bike, his legacy is tainted,” continued Jenkins. “The Park Service is on notice that his illegal actions should not remain in place”.


See Bernhardt’s Redelegation Order now amended 29 times

More on Smith’s recent e-bikes directive

Background on Smith’s other actions in violation of FVRA

Background on Pendley’s initial dubious appointment to run BLM

See likely illegal action under Pendley’s predecessor as BLM head, Brian Steed

See PEER’s March 2019 report on “Bernhardt’s Bad Actors”

Phone: 202-265-7337

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