Energy & Environment

Federal ‘whistleblower’ quits over reassignment, disagreements with administration

A self-styled whistleblower at the Interior Department quit Wednesday after speaking out about what he believed to be his improper reassignment.

In a resignation letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Joel Clement said he objected to his June reassignment out of a climate change role. He also cited "poor leadership" by Zinke, climate change skepticism and wasted tax money.

"I blew the whistle on the Trump administration because I believe you unlawfully retaliated against me for disclosing the perilous impacts of climate change upon Alaska Native communities and for working to help get them out of harm's way. The investigations into my whistleblower complaints are ongoing and I hope to prevail," Clement wrote.

"The best use of my skills is to join with the majority of Americans who understand what's at stake, working to find ways to innovate and thrive despite the many hurdles ahead," he continued.

"You have not silenced me; I will continue to be an outspoken advocate for action, and my voice will be part of the American chorus calling for your resignation so that someone loyal to the interests of all Americans, not just special interests, can take your job."

Clement appears to be the highest-ranking self-styled whistleblower to quit the federal government since President Trump took office.

In June, he was moved from his years-long responsibilities in the secretary's office dealing with how climate change affects Native Alaskan villages to a role overseeing collection of oil and natural gas revenues from federal land and offshore drilling, a move Clement said was improperly politically motivated.

"My new colleagues were as surprised as I was by the involuntary reassignment to a job title with no duties in an office that specializes in auditing and dispersing fossil fuel royalty income," he said in his resignation letter.

Clement is a member of the senior executive service, so certain reassignments within the department are permissible.

Interior's Office of Inspector General is investigating Clement's reassignment and others across the agency to determine if they were legal. In the meantime, federal officials have ordered Interior to hold off on such movements.

Clement said his problems were exacerbated last week when Zinke declared that around a third of the Interior staff were not loyal to him.

"Everyone is pissed here about his comments about loyalty. It's the buzz in the building. You hear snide remarks all day long at how ludicrous that was. They clearly have lost respect for the leadership of that organization," Clement told The Washington Post.

An Interior spokesman declined to comment on Clement, saying it is the agency's policy not to comment on whistleblower complaints.

But the spokesman, Russell Newell, defended the reshuffling of employees≥

"The purpose of the Senior Executive Service is to ensure that the executive management of the government of the United States is responsive to the needs, policies, and goals of the Nation and otherwise is of the highest quality," he said.

"Personnel moves among the Senior Executive Service are being conducted to better serve the taxpayer and the Department's operations."