DOI Scientists Involuntarily Reassigned
Approximately fifty senior employees at the Department of the Interior (DOI) were involuntarily reassigned to unrelated positions. Among them was Joel Clement, a scientist who directed the Office of Policy Analysis, helping endangered communities in Alaska adapt to climate change. Mr. Clement was reassigned to an unrelated position as a senior adviser at the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, an accounting office that collects royalty checks from fossil fuel companies.
Mr. Clement believes the reassignment was due to him speaking publicly about the dangers climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. During the months preceding his reassignment, Mr. Clement had raised the issue with White House and DOI officials and in international forum, including at a United Nations conference in June 2017. He believes the administration was uncomfortable with his work and that, as a result, he was reassigned with the intent to coerce his resignation.
In September 2017, DOI’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) confirmed that it is investigating the reassignments. In April 2018, the OIG published a report, documenting the findings of its investigation. According to the report, OIG was unable to determine whether the reassignments violated federal guidelines, as the DOI’s Executive Resources Board (ERB) (which was responsible for the reassignments) did not keep proper records of its decisions. The report states:
“The ERB 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 corps or with most managers affected by the reassignments. Absent documentation, we could not determine whether or not the ERB complied with Federal legal requirements . . . We found that the ERB did not follow the [U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s] guidance for” reassignments.
In February 2018, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, DOI published approximately 2000 pages of email traffic and other documents relating to the reassignments. The emails indicate that DOI has continued to reassign employees while the OIG investigation is ongoing.
Also in February 2018, Representative Elijah Cummings wrote to the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, requesting that he issue a subpoena to compel DOI to produce documents relating to the reassignments.