New Website Exposes Deputy Secretary’s Conflicts of Interest

Following President Trump’s announcement that scandal-plagued Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will leave before the end of the year, Western Values Project (WVP) launched to raise questions regarding the ex-lobbyist and current Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt who is likely to become Acting Secretary of the Interior.  The site details Bernhardt’s work to help special interests — some of whom are his former clients — advance their agendas and undermine protections for public lands and wildlife.

“The musical chairs that have become the hallmark of this administration mean that at least in the interim, Trump is just replacing one scandal-plagued Secretary with the ultimate DC swamp creature and ex-lobbyist David Bernhardt,” said Chris Saeger, Western Values Project Executive Director. “The bottom line is that Bernhardt is too conflicted to even be Acting Secretary. At the very least the American public deserves to know more about the man behind the curtain who is actually running the show at Interior and could soon be fully responsible for managing our country’s public lands, wildlife and natural resources.”

Bernhardt will take over as Acting Secretary of the Interior immediately upon Zinke’s departure according to the law, a position in which he will be allowed to serve for 210 days without action by the President.

We called on Secretary Zinke to resign because no one is above the law, and David Bernhardt is no different,” added Saeger.


Bernhardt has been described as the ultimate DC swamp creature.” He began his career in the 1990s working for Scott McInnis (R-CO) before taking a position in the Washington lobbying shop of Brownstein, Hyatt and Farber. In 2001, Bernhardt went to work for George W. Bush’s Interior Department, where he served as Counselor to the Secretary when the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal was ravaging the Interior Department.

In 2009, Bernhardt returned to his old lobbying firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP and became the head of its natural resources lobbying shop, where his clients included oil, gas, and mining companies. In August 2017, Bernhardt was confirmed as Deputy Secretary of the Interior. Since then, he has led Interior’s review of the 2015 sage grouse plans, started weakening the Endangered Species Act, rescinded Obama-era climate change and conservation policies, tried to limit public scoping and comment periods, oversaw the forced reorganization of Interior employees, and undermined Interior’s ability to make decisions based on the best available scientific research, just to name a few of his attacks on public lands and wildlife.

While much is known about Bernhardt’s numerous conflicts of interest, there are still many unanswered questions regarding his current tenure and how he will manage the department.  

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