Ethics group goes after Interior for sidestepping Senate when filling posts

Ethics group goes after Interior for sidestepping Senate when filling posts
© Greg Nash

An environmental group filed a complaint against the Department of the Interior on Tuesday, saying the agency shuffled controversial employees into roles without Senate confirmation.

A May 23 order from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt slotted people into various vacant roles that would normally require a nomination to the Senate.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) argued the agency is violating federal law on vacancies by “temporarily redelegating” roles to existing employees for the 27th time under the Trump administration.

PEER said some of those who took over positions that require confirmation by the Senate would be unlikely to get confirmed if officially nominated.

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The group is especially focused on Karen Budd-Falen, who had sued Interior and the Bureau of Land Management numerous times as a lawyer in Wyoming.

PEER senior counsel Peter Jenkins said Budd-Falen is too controversial for approval by the Senate.

“Putting Karen Budd-Falen in this position is like putting Genghis Khan in charge of a day care center,” he said in a statement. “Since David Bernhardt knows Budd-Falen is so right wing that she could never be confirmed for the job he just gave her, this maneuver only underlines the Administration’s continuing contempt for the Senate’s constitutional advice and consent prerogative.”

Interior did not respond to a request for comment.

Budd-Falen was serving as deputy solicitor at Interior, a role that does not require Senate review. Bernhardt appointed her to the role of assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. Robert Wallace was recently nominated to take over that post — a role that has gone without a Senate-confirmed leader since 2011.

Wallace looks headed for likely confirmation given his support from Republicans, Democrats and some in the conservation community, but it’s not clear when the Senate may vote to confirm him.

PEER said the lack of Senate-confirmed leadership at Interior across multiple departments invalidates some agency decisions regarding Sage Grouse management. Their complaint asks the inspector general's office to remedy the issue by forcing Interior to reissue some decisions that were made by offices without an official leader.