Washington, DC March 6, 2018 – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke repeatedly vows to move decision-making from inside the Beltway to the field level, but his numerous actions belie that intent, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Instead of becoming more decentralized under Zinke, Interior is now run almost an entirely by a small band of political operatives based in Washington, DC.
Notably earlier this year, Zinke proposed a massive agency-wide reorganization supposedly designed to relocate decision-making to the “watershed” level. Tellingly, Zinke did not consult his regional managers beforehand but met with them after to seek input from “experts” only on how to implement his plan, not on whether it made any sense. That plan is reportedly now under revision due to negative pushback from Western governors with whom Zinke also did not consult.
At the same time, Zinke has issued directives to further an “energy dominance” agenda that make it difficult for local managers to mitigate destructive effects from drilling and mining operations. This is part of a pattern of Zinke taking unilateral actions to preempt local decisions, for example, by –
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- Forbidding national parks from restricting sales of plastic bottles by concessionaires. The April 2017 edict cited promotion of consumer choice as policy while providing no options to parks staggering under rising tides of solid waste, much of it plastic bottles;
- Directing all land managers to maximize target shooting, hunting, and fishing opportunities, while discouraging any measures to protect wildlife, such as limits on lead-based ammunition; and
- Personally reversing Glacier National Park quarantine requirements for motorized watercraft instituted to slow the spread of invasive zebra mussels in park waters.
“From national directives that tie local hands, down to micromanaging individual parks, Secretary Zinke runs a top-down operation where input from the field is neither sought nor welcome,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Interior’s major land management agencies still lack their own directors and are managed out of Zinke’s office. “In fact, it is difficult to identify a single instance in which Secretary Zinke has deferred to his on-the-ground managers.”
Compounding Interior’s hierarchical approach is the dismantlement of more than 200 advisory bodies, such as local voluntary Resource Advisory Councils to obtain local input on range management issues. Zinke also prompted resignation of most all members of the National Park System Advisory Board by refusing to meet with that body.
“More than 90% of Interior’s workforce is already based outside the Beltway but seem more disempowered than ever, even as staffing in headquarter and regional offices continues to thin,” added Ruch, pointing to the dismal results of Interior’s 2017 Work Environment Survey. “Regardless of where they are located, Interior’s entire workforce is forced to sing from the same political hymnal.”