Zinke used Thanksgiving to sneak a Koch adviser and party loyalist into key public information role

Alan Pyke

Alan Pyke Deputy Economic Policy Editor, Think Progress

After attracting more scandals in 18 months than his four predecessors managed in  16 years, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke quietly shut the door to further public scrutiny of his office over the Thanksgiving break.

The secretary gave control of incoming Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to former Koch Industries adviser and longtime Zinke consigliere Dan Jorjani in an order dated November 20 but first uncovered Monday afternoon by the Center for Biological Diversity.

Zinke’s move on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is best understood as a reshuffling of his resources, from attack to defense. Jorjani has worked for the agency since at least May 2017, serving as the chief lawyer putting Zinke and Trump’s agenda into black-letter policy action. He worked with energy industry interests to pen the rollbacks of Obama-era regulatory decisions protecting migratory birds and rejecting a mining proposal at the edge of Minnesota’s Boundary Waters, according to reporting by Pacific Standard’s Jimmy Tobias.

As Zinke’s management of the department drew scandalous scrutiny — like so many other Trump cabinet secretaries, Zinke appears to play fast and loose with ethics rules governing travel costs — Jorjani wrote to a colleague that Interior staffers’ primary responsibility is to protect Zinke from negative press. He will now be the central gatekeeper of the agency’s documents when journalists, watchdogs, and other citizens seek insight into the conduct of their government

The appointment follows Zinke’s much-criticized attempt to replace the department’s Inspector General with the same Trump administration employee who previously helped Secretary Ben Carson spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on new decor for his Housing and Urban Development office. Zinke appears to have taken just one lesson from that experience: When replacing professional oversight and transparency officials with political allies, it’s better to do it over a holiday week.

Though courts often frown on bad-faith invocations of executive privilege and other exceptions to the FOIA law from government officials, an initial rejection from a FOIA officer typically buys many months of delay even if a judge later orders public servants to hand over documents. The potential for such abuse of FOIA decision-making authority by political hands is part of the reason the work is typically done by career civil servants. Zinke’s sly Thanksgiving maneuver boots a career Interior employee out of the FOIA driver’s seat, replaced by a person whose stated loyalty is to Zinke first and the department’s mandates on behalf of the public second. Some environmental groups worry that the public interest might not even be second on Jorjani’s mental list, given his years of legal service to the arch-conservative Koch brothers.

Jorjani is likely to be busy. As of late August, there were 15 separate active investigations into Zinke’s conduct atop the agency in his first 541 days in office, according to Bloomberg’s tally of Trump administration scandals and potential scandals. The same tracker records 11 official investigations of the past four heads of Interior combined, over roughly 16 years of service.

Zinke has wielded the agency as a weapon on behalf of pollution-heavy industries, despite his carefully curated public image as an outdoorsman who cherishes wilderness spaces. He’s rescinded federal land protections from millions of acresof the west, thrown National Parks Service security staff into his boss’s immigration enforcement kabuki, and ignored and stifled input from the indigenous communities who live closest to the lands he oversees.

To be fair to Jorjani’s boss, though, Zinke has also put a Big Buck Hunter game in the employee cafeteria at Interior headquarters.

***

Reposted from ThinkProgress

Alan Pyke is the Deputy Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Before coming to ThinkProgress, he was a blogger and researcher with a focus on economic policy and political advertising at Media Matters for America, American Bridge 21st Century Foundation, and PoliticalCorrection.org. He previously worked as an organizer on various political campaigns from New Hampshire to Georgia to Missouri. His writing on music and film has appeared on TinyMixTapes, IndieWire’s Press Play, and TheGrio, among other sites.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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There is Dignity in All Work