Environmental Group Questions DOI Use of Non-Career, Temporary Acting Officials
As reported by Jory Heckman at Federal News Radio, the nonprofit organization Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has complained that the Secretary of the Interior’s use of acting officials is inappropriate. The group has previously asked the Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) “to look into what it considered ‘blatant violations’ of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.”
“More specifically, PEER took issue with the agency’s appointment of Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Greg Sheehan, National Park Service acting Director Daniel Smith and the Bureau of Land Management’s Deputy Director for Policy and Programs Brian Steed.”
PEER maintains that acting officials are intended to serve temporarily, and that President Trump has yet to nominate permanent directors for the positions.
“If they want to appoint acting directors, it requires them to go through some careful procedures, and in fact, the acting position has to be appointed by the president, not the secretary of the Interior,” according to Peter Jenkins, Senior Counsel at PEER.
PEER released an exchange between GAO’s associate general counsel, Robert Cramer, and Interior’s OIG, which indicated GAO only planned to release a report on the matter if an Interior official served in an acting capacity for more than 210 days, as outlined in the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.
“I want to let you know that as a result of a decision made here about a year ago, we plan to report, in accordance with our statutory mandate, only time violations of the act. We are not reporting violations of the Act based on an acting official’s qualifications to serve in that capacity. Thus any report we issue will not fully address all of the issues raised in PEER’s letter,” Cramer wrote to the Interior OIG on April 6.
“The whole point of having a Senate confirmation process is that the public gets to comment on it, and the senators get to be involved and submit questions. As a result, you have a record for these people — you’ve got statements from them that you can later hold them to that will at least ground them a little bit in the realities of the world,” Jenkins said. “It’s just better to have an official that is known to the Senate and to the public, and has a track record, rather than these flying-under-the-radar type people who are running the show.”
However, the Department of the Interior has said all three officials of concern are actually deputy directors, not acting directors.
“PEER is either lying or doesn’t have a basic understanding of facts,” then-Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said of the story in February.
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