EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. Photo: Associated Press

By Evan Halper
4 October 2017

(The Los Angeles Times) – Interior Department manager Joel Clement figured his new bosses in the Trump administration might disapprove of his climate-change-focused work protecting Alaskan villages from rising seas.

But the reassignment slip Clement received in June stunned him. He was not only removed from his post as director of policy analysis, he was deposited into a new job auditing fossil fuel company leases.

Approximately 50 such slips went out to the department’s most experienced and highly paid managers. Other recipients interviewed were just as puzzled as Clement. It seemed to them that they were getting moved for the sake of getting moved — often to jobs unrelated to their skills. On Wednesday, Clement joined those who have quit in frustration.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may have shed some light on his thinking last week when he told a petroleum industry group that he believes nearly a third of his workforce is disloyal to the Trump agenda. “I got 30% of the crew that's not loyal to the flag,” he said, in a remark first reported by the Associated Press.

Most new administrations move quickly to reorient the federal workforce toward their agenda, but they usually rely on the deep expertise of top-level managers such as Clement to move the stubborn levers of bureaucracy. The Trump administration approach has been different.

“I’ve talked to a lot of folks who have been around the federal government for decades and they say transitions can be tough, but what this group is doing is remarkable,” said Clement, who filed a whistler-blower complaint over the reassignment. “They have moved me into an area I know nothing about. It might as well be Chinese.”

Clement’s old job has yet to be filled. The Alaskan villages he has advocated for, he said, are on the verge of getting washed away.

The administration’s actions have signaled deep suspicion of many of the civil servants on the government payroll, particularly when their work has involved confronting climate change or enforcing the environmental protections and other regulations the White House is working to roll back.

Some reassignments have come after media on the right demanded them, as was the case of a high-level State Department staffer whose involvement in the Iran nuclear deal was highlighted by Breitbart. Scores more diplomats at the department have been largely idled by an administration projecting ambivalence about their work.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, longtime civil servants — some with doctorates in environmental work — say they have been frozen out because their voluminous administrative records are out of sync with a Trump political agenda that holds that much of what they do is junk science.

“The work of the EPA science arm has now been disconnected from the agency’s decision-making,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “It’s like a bureaucratic Dunkirk over there. They are just stuck waiting on the beach.”

Betsy Southerland left her post in August as director of science and technology at the EPA Office of Water, after she said the administration all but ignored her team’s work. Just before she left, her division had compiled what she called “excruciatingly detailed briefings” explaining the environmental damage and public health risks that would result from an industry demand to suspend restrictions on wastewater dumped by power plants.

“We thought we could present this heavy-duty technical record and convince [EPA Administrator Scott] Pruitt he should not repeal everything,” she said. “We could show that what industry was saying was just not based in fact. But it fell on deaf ears. It all went to naught.” [more]

Civil servants charge Trump is sidelining workers with expertise on climate change and environment

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