Committee Sets Schedule for Interviews on Interior Secretary’s Schedule and Secrecy of Industry Meetings

May 31, 2019
Press Release

Washington, DC (May 31, 2019)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent a letter to Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt setting a schedule for transcribed interviews with four Department officials regarding their knowledge of the preservation and maintenance of the Secretary’s schedule and other matters.

The Department appeared to relent after Cummings pointed out earlier this month that salaries could be withheld for any employees who seeks to “prohibit or prevent” the interviews.

“Now that the Department has indicated that it is no longer blocking its employees from participating in transcribed interviews requested by the Committee in March regarding the Department’s recordkeeping procedures and practices, I am writing to establish an interview schedule,” Cummings wrote.  

On March 28, 2019, Cummings and Natural Resources Chairman Rep. Raúl Grijalva sent a letter requesting transcribed interviews with four Department officials.  Instead of making them available, the Department’s Director of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, Cole Rojewski, sent a letter on April 10, 2019, offering a briefing and producing documents that were not requested.  

On May 7, 2019, the Chairmen sent Rojewski a response noting that federal officials who attempt to block these interviews could risk having their salaries withheld pursuant to a provision in federal appropriations law.

On May 10, 2019, Mr. Rojewski sent a letter changing his position and confirming that “these employees have been instructed by counsel that they are free to submit to such interviews if they so choose.”  

“Given Mr. Rojewski’s statement, and the instructions by agency counsel that he referenced, the Committee is now moving forward with scheduling these interviews,” Cummings wrote.  “The Committee has made clear its legitimate legislative and investigative purposes, and the Committee has a longstanding practice of conducting robust oversight of agency actions and legislating on federal records issues and public disclosure laws.  These investigations regularly include interviewing both senior officials and career employees responsible for records retention and disclosure practices.  The only aspects of this investigation that are unusual are the Department’s refusal to schedule these interviews and its baseless excuses for delaying them so long.  Subpoenas should not be necessary to conduct standard interviews of agency officials about matters that are squarely within the Committee’s legislative and oversight jurisdiction.”

Click here to read today’s letter.

116th Congress