An aerial view of Kivalina, an Alaska Native village whose shoreline is threatened by rising sea levels that have been linked to climate change. Photo: ShoreZone
Environment | National | Politics

Interior Department employee blames reassignment on advocacy for Alaska Natives





A scientist at the Department of the Interior says the Trump administration retaliated against him for speaking out in defense of Alaska Native communities.

Joel Clement was among dozens of senior employees who were suddenly reassigned to new positions last month. Writing for The Washington Post, he said he filed whistle-blower complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

"I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities," Clement wrote for The Post. "During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government."

Secretary Ryan Zinke has defended the reassignments, which he issued as soon as he was allowed to do so under federal law. They affect participants in the Senior Executive Service program, where it's common for officials to be shifted around to different positions.

The reassignments affect the three top Indian Affairs officials at Interior. Mike Black, the acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, Weldon “Bruce” Loudermilk, the director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Debra L. DuMontier, the acting Special Trustee for American Indians, were all offered different positions as the department undertakes a "bold" reorganization, the plans for which have not been communicated to tribal leaders.

But as of this week, Black, who is a citizen of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is still serving as the acting Assistant Secretary. Loudermilk, who is a citizen of the Fort Peck Tribes, is also still in his job as director of the BIA, a post he took last November.

The reassignments offer some time for recipients to respond so it's possible Black and Loudermilk might be moving to new positions sometime soon. Also affected is Debra L. DuMontier, the acting Special Trustee for American Indians.

The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs is a political post. President Donald Trump has yet to nominate someone for the job, something his two predecessors had already accomplished by this time in their first terms in office.

The Special Trustee is also a political job. The BIA director post, on the other hand, is held by a career employee at the agency.

"Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he’s not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars," Clement wrote for The Post.

Clement's prior title was was director of the Office of Policy Analysis at Interior, whose website appears to have been shut down by the Trump team. He's now a senior adviser at the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, which deals with energy development, a priority of the new administration.

"The Alaska Native villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are perilously close to melting into the Arctic Ocean," Clement wrote. "In a region that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the land upon which citizens’ homes and schools stand is newly vulnerable to storms, floods and waves. As permafrost melts and protective sea ice recedes, these Alaska Native villages are one superstorm from being washed away, displacing hundreds of Americans and potentially costing lives. The members of these communities could soon become refugees in their own country."

Read More on the Story:
Joel Clement: I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration. (The Washington Post 7/19)