A Department of the Interior political appointee with no relevant experience has been delaying the disbursement of grants and cooperative-agreement funding for conservation projects, Yahoo News reported, revealing the extent of corruption and manipulation afoot at Secretary Ryan Zinke’s agency.
Steven Howke, a senior adviser at Interior and a childhood friend of Secretary Zinke’s, oversees the vetting of payments of more than $50,000 for conservation-related grants, and Senators are charging that Howke’s screening process — and the resulting delays of disbursement — create “‘the appearance of improper political interference in program decisions that should always be merit-based.’”
Howke “does not have any apparent familiarity with the workings of the federal apparatus, nor any known experience that would qualify him for the complex processes of tending to the nation’s lands and natural resources,” Yahoo News reported.
Not only have Zinke’s political appointees tampered with scientific documents that address critical issues that impact our public lands and wildlife, they are now screening and delaying all grant applications over $50,000, playing politics with vital conservation funding and creating more bureaucratic red-tape.
According to the story, one project that was studying “rehabilitation and restoration to help foster resilient and healthy landscapes” related to warming temperatures simply had its funds cut off. A high-ranking state official also believes that the new process’ intent is to ferret out grants. The official worried that grants that don’t share the administration’s views would be limited.
“Public grants under Secretary Zinke are now being screened by someone getting paid over $131,000 annually, who has no previous experience or qualifications for reviewing government grants that often involve complex scientific research, among other important research that deals with our public lands and wildlife,” said Western Values Project Deputy Director Jayson O’Neill. “It appears that the review process is purely political in nature with the intent of delaying, limiting and/or restricting grant funds to those not in favor with the administration or conducting research contrary to the corporate special interests that brought them into office.”
Western Values Project (WVP) previously documented how Zinke hired his former football buddy, Steve Howke, to head this new screening process. Howke’s only relevant financial experience is working for a small credit union in Zinke’s former hometown. He is now making over six figures annually to screen the public grants.
A former Interior official confirmed that even though every administration has its own political imperatives, this is extraordinary and that the decision-making process has never been this political in nature. The story pointed out that many are wary of speaking out, fearing retribution from Secretary Zinke and the administration.
WVP filed several Freedom of Information Act requests with the department after the additional review process was announced. The documents received thus far show how the new screening process was shrouded in confusion and poorly rolled out to various Interior agencies. It also has caused funding delays for various projects and grant recipients.
See the documents WVP received from Interior below:
2018 0510 BOEM 2018 00121 Response Final
(RESPONSIVE) 18 750 Smith Results REDACTED
(RESPONSIVE) 18 570 Reynolds Results
(RESPONSIVE) 18 570 Powell Results