In a move described as “likely illegal” by legal experts, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke decided that nearly every grant distributed by the department now must be reviewed by a political appointee to determine whether they meet the Trump administration’s goals before they are approved. The senior advisor hired to coordinate those reviews just happens to be Secretary Zinke’s buddy and longtime supporter who he played football with in high school.
The Washington Post obtained a directive that was distributed by Scott J. Cameron, a deputy assistant secretary for policy at Interior. It instructs fellow assistant secretaries and bureau heads and offices to submit science grants $50,000 and over awarded to non-profits or institutions of higher education to be reviewed by the senior adviser to Deputy Assistant Cameron. It also directs grants used to acquire land or interest in land to be reviewed by the senior adviser as well. Cameron was an industry lobbyist prior to this political appointment.
“This is nothing more than the same abuse of power to advance a political agenda that has become routine at the Department of Interior and throughout the Trump administration,” said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project. “The fact that he’s slotting his high school friend into a position to make these determinations stinks of banana republic-style cronyism. This is the farthest thing from the fair and impartial approach to looking after our outdoor heritage that public lands users in the West deserve.”
The executive director of the New York University School of Law’s State Energy and Environmental Impact Center, David J. Hayes, said in the Washington Post story that “‘subjugating Congress’ priorities to 10 of the Secretary’s own priorities is arrogant, impractical and, in some cases, likely illegal.'”
Western Values Project published a profile of Senior Advisor Howke on their Department of Influence website.
Secretary Zinke has previously come under intense scrutiny for what appears to be political travel on official government business.
With Secretary Zinke’s record of filling the Interior Department with special interests and lobbyists, it can be hard to keep track. Western Values Project created the Department of Influence to document the revolving door between special interest lobbyists and political appointees at Interior. Learn more at https://departmentofinfluence.org/.