New Interior secretary ‘not happy’ about budget proposal
The new head of the Interior Department told employees Friday he is “not happy” about the agency’s upcoming budget request crafted by the White House.
“I looked at the budget,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in his first address to employees. “I’m not happy. We’re going to fight about it, and I think I’m going to win at the end of the day.”
Zinke told reporters after the speech that he has concerns with certain spending accounts in the White House’s proposed budget, noting programs like wildfire management and a property tax reimbursement program for counties with large areas of federal land.
“A lot of it is: new administration comes in, my ability to articulate with the expert staff on why we need to prioritize infrastructure, on why some of the line items of the budget need to be adjusted,” he said.
“It’s negotiated, so it’s not hard. … The president, the White House, is working with us on it, but I’ve been in the office for one day and I have my priorities and I think my priories are going to match the president’s.”
Details of President Trump’s budget request have rankled some of his incoming Cabinet officials.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, a likely ally of Trump’s when it comes to undoing Obama-era climate programs, said this week he is concerned about funding proposals for state grant programs, among other items.
The Senate confirmed Zinke to his position at Interior on Wednesday. By Thursday, he had signed two secretary-level orders, including one repealing a ban on lead in ammunition and fishing tackle. He also made headlines by riding a horse to work on his first day.
After his speech at Interior’s headquarters on Friday, Zinke said he would reconsider late actions from the Obama Interior Department, including orders blocking drilling in the Arctic Ocean.
“I’m going to review everything that didn’t go through Congress, and then the last-minute policies, the last-minute decisions, tell me that it was not vetted or didn’t have a consensus,” he said. “I’m going to review everything within my power.”
Zinke didn’t rule out continuing a review of Interior’s coal leasing program, initiated by the Obama administration in 2016. The program, and the royalty rates for mining on federal land, haven’t been updated for decades.
Addressing a large group of employees at Interior’s headquarters, Zinke said he hopes to reorganize the department’s structure. He told reporters that could mean increasing and empowering “frontline” employment like managers and rangers in Interior properties around the country.
“The last time the Department of Interior has been reorganized was about 100 years ago,” he told employees.
“The reorganization is now the goal, and look at, just as Teddy Roosevelt did, look out 100 years from now and make sure we’re organized to address the challenges of the future.”