Interior Department Shake-up Raises Questions About Retaliation
Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, announced her intention to pursue an investigation into the reassignment of the director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the Department of the Interior.
The employee who held the post, Joel Clement, is a member of the Senior Executive Service who wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he alleged he had been reassigned as a means of retaliation for his belief that climate change is a real threat.
In the Post op-ed, Clement wrote, “I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science…on June 15, I was one of about 50 senior department employees who received letters informing us of involuntary reassignments. Citing a need to ‘improve talent development, mission delivery and collaboration,’ the letter informed me that I was reassigned to an unrelated job in the accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.” Importantly, though, Clement notes, “I am not an accountant…”
Clement goes on to explain his belief that the Trump administration was opposed to his work discussing the threat climate change poses, specifically to native Alaskan communities. He writes, “During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government.”
Following the news surrounding the reassignment of Clement and other Interior executives, Sen. Cantwell sent a letter to the Interior Department’s Inspector General, in which she notes that, “Although the law allows the head of an agency to reassign senior executives, it contemplates that reassignments be made ‘to best accomplish the agency’s mission,” stating that, “Any suggestion that the Department is reassigning SES employees to force them to resign, to silence their voices, or to punish them for the conscientious performance of their public duties is extremely troubling and calls for the closest examination.”
Cantwell was joined by seven other Senators in sending the letter.
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