Groups threaten suit as Interior repeatedly fills top posts with 'temporary' leaders

Groups threaten suit as Interior repeatedly fills top posts with 'temporary' leaders

Two environmental watchdog groups are threatening to sue the Department of the Interior for continuously filling top posts with temporary orders — a move that skirts Senate confirmation.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says voters should choose who nominates Supreme Court justice Trump, Biden will not shake hands at first debate due to COVID-19 Pelosi: Trump Supreme Court pick 'threatens' Affordable Care Act MORE hasn’t nominated a permanent director for either the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or the National Park Service through his tenure.

The notice of intent to sue calls particular attention to William Perry Pendley, the acting director of BLM, who has been on the job nearly a year, with his tenure repeatedly extended for a few months at a time by an order from Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Western Watersheds Project argue in a notice of intent to sue that such orders violate both the Federal Vacancies Reform Act and the appointments clause of the U.S. Constitution, which dictates that the orders should only be used temporarily.

The orders “falsely asserted that the need for the ‘temporary’ re-delegations is due to the ‘Presidential transition,’ which now is long past more than three and one quarter years post-inauguration,” the groups wrote. 

Pendley is a controversial figure in conservation circles given his longtime advocacy for selling off public lands. His ethics pledge includes a 17-page recusal list that shows his ties with a number of industries that stand to benefit from greater access to public lands. 

He has also overseen a relocation of the agency’s D.C. headquarters that has resulted in losing more than half the staff slated to move. 

PEER has previously filed complaints with the Inspector General and sent letters to Senate leaders calling into question his authority under the orders.

“As we continue to address this national emergency, these special interest groups would rather seek to divert critical taxpayer resources on a baseless lawsuit and attempt to remove the leaders of critical government bureaus,” the Department of the Interior said in a response to The Hill, adding that it is grateful for the service of its temporary appointees.

The latest re-delegation of authority expires May 5. If Pendley is reauthorized, the groups said that they will sue.