Cummings Investigates Reports of Retaliation Against Senior Career Officials at Interior Dept.

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 6, 2017 – Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter to Secretary Ryan Zinke at the Department of the Interior requesting documents relating to the reassignment of dozens of senior employees and career civil servants, including Joel Clement, one of the Department’s top policy experts on climate change who resigned earlier this week.

“I am writing to request documents relating to the reassignment of numerous Senior Executive Service (SES) employees and career civil servants within the Department of the Interior, including Joel Clement, one of the Department’s foremost policy experts on climate change,” Cummings wrote.  “Mr. Clement resigned this week after one of your top deputies reassigned him to a position for which he had no professional expertise in alleged retaliation for blowing the whistle on activities within the Department.  I am concerned that many additional senior employees may be receiving similar treatment.”

Zinke has reportedly reassigned as many as many as 50 SES employees, which a Department spokesman justified as an effort “to better serve the taxpayer and the Department’s operations.”  He also reportedly threatened to use reassignments to move individuals he claims are disloyal to the Trump Administration and to dramatically shrink the Department’s workforce.

“The use of personnel reassignments to punish employees you believe are not ‘loyal’ or to try to drive employees to leave the Department could constitute prohibited personnel practices that violate the merit systems protections set forth in 5 U.S.C. § 2301,” Cummings wrote.

Cummings also expressed grave concerns that the Department’s lead climate change policy expert was transferred to a job for which he had no expertise in apparent retaliation for disclosures he made about the risks to human health created by the effects of climate change.

“The reassignments of Mr. Clement and the other Department employees raise serious concerns about whether they are being retaliated against in violation of the law and whether the Department is using taxpayer funds to carry out its missions appropriately,” Cummings wrote.  “It is a violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act to reassign employees in retaliation for protected disclosures that they reasonably believe are evidence of substantial and specific dangers to public health or safety.”

Cummings requested that Zinke produce by October 19 all documents  and information relating to reassignments or proposed reassignments of any career SES employees or civil service employees and how these transfers were intended to better serve taxpayer interests and the Department’s operations.

Click here to read today’s letter.