Jerrad Moore/Broadcast Specialist
Ranking democrat requests DOI answer for staff reassignments
WASHINGTON — Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of the Interior has made a series of moves some believe target Native American interests.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) has demanded the House Committee on Natural Resources request DOI Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason and Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt to appear before the committee to answer questions stemming from a recent Office of the Inspector General report.
He said the aim of having Cason and Bernhardt report to the committee is to establish whether the reassignments were politically motivated.
The OIG investigation was precipitated by allegations brought by Joel Clement, who said he was transferred as political retaliation because of his work on climate change.
The report evaluated the reassignment of 35 senior executive staff executives carried out by an Executive Review Board established by Zinke on May 19, 2017.
The OIG report found the DOI’s Executive Review Board ‘did not document its plan or the reasons it used when selecting senior executives for reassignment, nor did it gather the information needed to make informed decisions about the reassignments. In addition, the ERB did not communicate the decisions made with the SES (Senior Executive Service) corps or with most managers affected by the reassignments.’
Eleven of the affected executives are Native American with experience in working with tribal governments and organizations, according to www.talkingpointsmemo.com.
The lack of documentation surrounding these reassignments opens the DOI to speculation that these actions were part of a broader plan to inhibit or redirect interactions with tribal governments or replace executives that might be sympathetic to tribal interests with more controllable replacements.
There also has been a question whether or not Native American tribes have been properly consulted in the decisions to open up sacred lands for mining and drilling, such as the Bears Ears National Park issue.
In a testimony of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition to the House Subcommittee on Federal Lands in January, Ute Indian Tribe Business Committee member Shaun Chapoose commented on House Resolution 4532, a bill to create the first tribally managed national monument.
‘In contrast, H.R. 4532 was developed without any tribal consultation and includes a variety of serious problems that violate basic tenants of federal Indian law and the United States’ treaty, trust and government-to-government relations with Indian tribes,’ Chapoose stated.
Another issue is the Cobell settlement, brought about by a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. for the mismanagement of Indian trust funds.
Cason, who was then DOI acting secretary, suggested last year to a House Natural Resources subcommittee that the DOI had “not accomplished much” in the administration of the land buy back program established by the settlement.
Instead of spending the last third of the fund purchasing land for tribes, Cason suggested the remaining funds be held in a revolving fund that would allow DOI to purchase fractionated lands that tribal members could then buy back from DOI.
Cason has sometimes been seen as an adversarial figure for tribal interests at the DOI, an example being his handling of the Cobell v. Norton case.
In 2006, ‘Indian Country Today’ reported that Cason sent a letter to tribes notifying them that federal tribal programs would suffer due to the courts requiring the government to pay more than $7 million in legal fees in litigating the case.