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Secretary Zinke tells Interior employees 'diversity isn't important'




Secretary Ryan Zinke values diversity in the workplace, a spokesperson said as CNN reported questionable comments from the leader of the Department of the Interior.

According to three high-ranking, but unnamed, officials at the department, Zinke has told employees that "diversity isn't important." He said he would base hiring decisions on "having the right person for the right job" rather than focusing on diversity, the officials told CNN.

"When we have conversations about public lands and how they're used, we cannot afford to have a small percentage of people making those decisions," one official was quoted as saying.

But a spokesperson for the department said the remarks attributed to Zinke are "untrue." At least three leadership jobs at Interior are held by women and an African American.

"Zinke has filled several other senior positions at the career and appointed level with individuals from diverse backgrounds," the spokesperson told CNN.

Working at Interior: Landmark study finds high rate of workplace harassment at Bureau of Indian Affairs

Among Zinke's political appointees at Interior, only one is American Indian or Alaska Native. John Tahsuda, a citizen of the Kiowa Tribe, serves as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Zinke previously had another Native citizen on board but Gavin Clarkson, who hails from the Choctaw Nation, resigned last year and is now running for Congress.

The Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, a political job that typically goes to a Native person, remains unfilled more than a year into the Trump administration. Tara Sweeney, who is Inupiat, has not secured a confirmation hearing amid doubts about her background, which includes ties to an Alaska Native corporation.

Zinke has gone to bat for Sweeney, saying her dealings with Native corporations, which were established by Congress, should be seen as a benefit for the job.

The other political post that usually goes to a tribal citizen is the Special Trustee for American Indians. It too remains vacant as the Trump team considers transferring some, or possibly all, of the functions of the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians to the BIA.

During the Obama era, a historic number of political jobs at Interior went to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The first Native person and Native woman to serve as Solicitor was Hilary Tompkins, a citizen of the Navajo Nation. The first Native person to serve as Commissioner of Reclamation was Mike Connor, a descendant of Taos Pueblo. He later became the first Native person as Deputy Secretary, the second-highest ranking position at the department.

Among career staff, about 6,770 employees at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and another 655 or so work at the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. The overwhelming majority at these two agencies are Native Americans.


In 2014, about 9.6 percent of Interior's employees were American Indians or Alaska Natives, according to the Office of Personnel and Management. Another 0.4 percent were Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

The percentage of American Indians and Alaska Natives at the department has declined in recent years as the BIA has reduced its workforce. The agency once boasted upwards of 10,000 employees but the figure has dropped significantly in the last two decades due to a variety of factors, including budget cuts and stagnation, attrition of employees and tribes taking on more functions through self-determination contracts and self-governance compacts.

Zinke came under fire last year for suggesting that 30 percent of employees aren't "loyal to the flag." He also compared Interior's staff to that of a pirate ship.

Following those remarks, Zinke abruptly reassigned all three top Indian Affairs officials at Interior to new posts. The move, dubbed by some at the department as the "Thursday night massacre," is being reviewed by the Office of Inspector General.

Read More on the Story:
Sources: Zinke tells employees diversity isn't important (CNN March 26, 2018)
Interior Department Denies Ryan Zinke Told Staff 'Diversity Isn't Important' (The Huffington Post March 26, 2018)
Unlike those in the resistance, certain career officials’ stars have risen under Trump (The Washington Post March 26, 2018)

An Opinion:
Secretary Ryan Zinke: Making a historic investment in public lands infrastructure (The Washington Times March 21, 2018)

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