It’s been simply two weeks since David Bernhardt was confirmed as head of the Inside Division (DOI), and already his tenure is mired in at the very least 4 controversies.
From the day he was confirmed earlier this month — regardless of uproar from Democrats over his conflicts of curiosity and a previous profession as an oil and fuel lobbyist — Bernhardt has confronted a wave of scandals.
The Inside Division’s watchdog is at the moment investigating Bernhardt over ethics considerations, together with a half-dozen different DOI senior officers. These investigations come because the division faces renewed scrutiny over its selections concerning Bears Ears, the Utah nationwide monument dramatically diminished by Bernhardt’s equally scandal-ridden predecessor, Ryan Zinke.
And on Thursday, Residents for Duty and Ethics in Washington (CREW) known as for one more investigation, this time into the division’s record-keeping, arguing Bernhardt’s each day schedule isn’t being totally documented and that controversial conferences are “deliberately” being left off the calendar.
“Underneath Bernhardt, the command seems to be granting favors to extractive industries, science be damned, whereas combating tooth and nail to maintain the general public at nighttime,” stated Jesse Prentice-Dunn, coverage director for the Middle for Western Priorities, in an e-mail to ThinkProgress on Thursday.
Earlier this week, the division’s Workplace of Inspector Basic (OIG) confirmed an investigation into potential ethics violations by six senior DOI officers. The choice got here in response to a request by the nonpartisan watchdog group Marketing campaign Authorized Middle, which requested in February that sure DOI staffers face a probe over doubtlessly violating an ethics pledge on account of interactions with former employers and purchasers.
The deputy inspector for the OIG, Mary L. Kendall, stated that her workplace will look into “potential ethics violations dedicated by a number of Division of Inside senior executives.” The Marketing campaign Authorized Middle named present Inside officers Benjamin Cassidy, Lori Mashburn, Doug Domenech, Todd Wynn, and Timothy Williams in its criticism. Vincent DeVito, a sixth individual named, left the division in August and joined an offshore oil and fuel firm.
The complaints towards the six officers range, however all relate to their former employers. Cassidy, a former Nationwide Rifle Affiliation (NRA) lobbyist, has been known as out for his ongoing work on gun-related points, together with on initiatives backed by the NRA. Mashburn, a former worker of the right-wing Heritage Basis, is criticized for staying in shut contact with the suppose tank since leaving. In the meantime, exchanges present Domenech met with representatives from the Texas Public Coverage Basis (TPPF), one other suppose tank that has actively downplayed local weather change.
Domenech, who’s at the moment assistant secretary for insular and worldwide affairs, beforehand labored for the Koch-backed right-wing suppose tank, which has notched political victories below the Trump administration. DeVito and Wynn equally engaged with former employers or purchasers whereas performing of their capability as DOI officers.
Senior political appointees are largely restricted within the interactions they’re allowed with former employers below an ethics pledge imposed by President Donald Trump. The investigation into the DOI staffers will study whether or not they’re in violation of these limitations.
Bernhardt is equally accused of breaching that ethics pledge. The Inside secretary, recognized for carrying round a card itemizing all of his conflicts of curiosity, is below investigation in relation to at the very least seven totally different complaints, based on an OIG letter despatched April 15 to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). That probe was launched 4 days after the Senate voted to verify Bernhardt, 56 to 41, largely alongside get together traces.
It’s unclear what the complete scope of the complaints entail, however Wyden and Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) had each pushed for an investigation into Bernhardt’s position in blocking an evaluation analyzing the influence of pesticides on sure endangered species. Bernhardt has beforehand lobbied on behalf of agribusiness and towards endangered species protections.
Current disclosures have additionally proven that Bernhardt continued engaged on insurance policies at DOI that may assist his former lobbying purchasers, regardless of the Trump administration’s ethics pledge. That work consists of shaping sure water insurance policies regardless of lobbying on them beforehand whereas working for California farmers.
He has equally strayed from the apply of sustaining an in depth each day calendar, as an alternative having employees overwrite a Google doc each day, erasing its earlier content material within the course of, which watchdog organizations have frightened is eroding transparency.
CREW wrote to Deputy Inspector Basic Kendall on April 25 urging an investigation. In its criticism, the watchdog group famous that there could also be a attainable hyperlink between the already-opened ethics investigation and the apparently deliberate record-keeping violations, “which seem designed partially to defend from public view and congressional scrutiny his contacts with trade lobbyists.”
DOI has argued that Bernhardt “is in full compliance together with his ethics settlement” and has adopted division coverage. However Democratic lawmakers and environmental teams are skeptical of the Inside secretary, in addition to different senior-level officers at DOI.
“The fish rots from the top,” wrote Wyden in a tweet this week responding to the 2 investigations.
Chris Saeger, govt director for the nonprofit Western Values Mission, advised ThinkProgress on Thursday that Bernhardt’s “particular curiosity conflicts are longer than a CVS receipt” and that his management at DOI has already been disconcerting for public lands advocates.
“Stopping the rot of corruption inside America’s largest land managing company will clearly require vigilant oversight and enforcement exterior of the division’s management,” Saeger stated, arguing that ongoing scandals and ethics lapses at DOI have come “on the expense of America’s outside heritage.”
Bernhardt’s critics are drawing comparisons to Zinke, who introduced his exit from the division in December within the midst of greater than a dozen scandals regarding spending and ethics violations.
However Zinke’s coverage legacy can also be dwelling on below Bernhardt. One of many former secretary’s most controversial actions as secretary stays the choice to dramatically shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, two Utah nationwide monuments, the most important discount in U.S. historical past. Paperwork obtained below the Freedom of Info Act (FOIA) have proven that oil and fuel drilling alternatives performed a serious position within the choice to scale back the monuments.
The choice was broadly panned by indigenous tribes, together with environmental teams and public lands advocates. However their opposition stays unnoticed by DOI. Final Friday, the division’s Bureau of Land Administration (BLM), launched the names of the 15 committee members chosen to offer steering on managing Bears Ears — the checklist included solely critics of the monument.
That transfer has been slammed as “political” by tribal teams, who say the Trump administration is willfully ignoring the needs of native communities. Supporters of Bears Ears utilized, however none have been chosen.
Bernhardt’s critics have pointed to that growth as one more indicator that the brand new secretary shall be very similar to his predecessor, in coverage as a lot as in scandal. Prentice-Dunn argued that Bernhardt has “established a observe document of serving to his former purchasers within the drilling and mining industries,” in line with the legacy set by Zinke.
Furthermore, Prentice-Dunn stated, with investigations mounting so early in his tenure, Bernhardt “is already on observe to be as scandal-plagued as his predecessor… if no more so.”