Washington, DC, July 6, 2020 — The Trump administration’s continued contortions to bypass the Senate confirmation process have once again backfired. This past week, the White House formally nominated William Pendley, who for the past 11 months has been the de facto Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to be confirmed as the full Director, but that nomination disqualifies him to remain in his acting capacity, according to a new legal complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Western Watersheds Project (WWP).
Under Trump, several Department of the Interior agencies have lacked confirmed Directors even though the U.S. Constitution requires Senate confirmation. Instead, Interior has installed a series of quasi-acting Directors under a long string of dubious “Redelegation Orders” issued by the Interior Secretary.
Because these arrangements are illegal, PEER and WWP filed federal suit on May 11, 2020, seeking a court order that both Pendley at BLM and David Vela at the National Park Service occupied their positions in violation of the Constitution and the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, among other deficiencies. Notably, in March, another federal court invalidated actions by Ken Cuccinelli as the similarly unconfirmed Acting Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In reaction to the PEER/WWP suit, Interior let its latest Redelegation Order lapse on June 5. Instead, the Interior Secretary’s office announced that he was continuing those two appointments indefinitely under a so-called “updated succession order,” which Interior has refused to disclose.
“A secret succession order does not pass either the laugh test or legal muster,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins. “Both of these officials remain completely illegitimate.”
Then, last week, the White House formally nominated Pendley to be the BLM Director. However, that action disqualified Pendley from remaining in his acting status atop BLM under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, which provides in pertinent part:
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“… a person may not serve as an acting officer for an office under this section, if—…..the President submits a nomination of such person to the Senate for appointment to such office.” [5 U.S.C.§ 3345(b)(1)]
PEER and WWP today moved to supplement their suit to incorporate these new developments.
“Oh, what a tangled web they weave,” remarked Jenkins, noting that the controversial Pendley is a self-described “Sagebrush Rebel” who headed a right-wing group dedicated to attacking BLM and federal land management. “Mr. Pendley had spent his legal career expressing contempt for federal law and continues to do so even in his current posting as a federal officer.”