By Anne Polansky
CSPW Sr. Climate Policy Analyst
“Secretary Zinke, you should resign effective immediately,” federal whistleblower Joel Clement wrote in a CNN opinion piece published yesterday evening. After seven years of public service, Clement left his Senior Executive Service (SES) post at the Department of Interior (DOI) last week after submitting a fiery letter of resignation (see our two posts, here and here). After blowing the whistle in July, Clement has been openly and fiercely critical of Secretary Zinke, Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt (a former oil industry lobbyist), and President Trump. The primary point of contention stems from Clement’s abrupt, involuntary reassignment to an office that collects oil company royalty checks from his post as top policy advisor, where he focused primarily on the deleterious effects of climate change on Alaskan communities. Clement, a biologist, was ill-equipped for the role assigned to him because it required sophisticated accounting skills, and he has expressed a strong reluctance to waste the taxpayer dollars needed to train him.
Despite accusations of air travel abuses, the chances that Secretary Zinke will resign are slim to none, and there is no indication that President Trump will ask him to leave. The stronger imperative, regardless of who holds office, is to hold accountable federal officials for any documented wrongdoing. Clement’s courageous actions and words to date highlight the urgent need for critically important checks and balances on Executive Branch overreach. Several important investigations into Clement’s transfer and that of many others at Interior are underway and must continue. At this point, it is critical that we strenuously exercise the checks and balances so central to the US Constitution in order to avoid a dangerous imbalance of power – the sort of imbalance that history teaches us can too easily lead to tyranny.