Cummings Asks Gowdy to Subpoena Department of Interior for Documents on Reassignment of “Disloyal” Employees

Feb 27, 2018
Press Release

Cummings Asks Gowdy to Subpoena

Department of Interior for Documents on

Reassignment of “Disloyal” Employees


Washington, D.C. (Feb. 27, 2018)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a letter asking Chairman Trey Gowdy to issue a subpoena to compel the Department of the Interior to produce documents it has been withholding from Congress since last October relating to Secretary Ryan Zinke’s efforts to reassign career Senior Executive Service employees and other civil service employees, as well as the costs associated with these reassignments.

“One of our core responsibilities on the Committee is to conduct vigorous oversight of agency reorganizations and the treatment of career federal employees,” Cummings wrote.  “Although I was disappointed that you chose not to join me in requesting documents from the Department about these wide-ranging actions that are squarely within our jurisdiction, I hope that if you decide not to issue this subpoena yourself, you will place this matter on the agenda for our next regularly scheduled business meeting so all Committee members will have the opportunity to vote on a motion to subpoena these documents.”

Shortly after taking office, Zinke threatened to use personnel reassignments to slash the Department’s workforce in response to their alleged disloyalty.  He “promised a ‘huge’ change by restructuring staff positions,” claimed that many career employees are “disloyal,” and compared assuming the position of Secretary to “capturing a pirate ship.”  In June 2017, the Department moved forward with efforts to reassign numerous civil service employees without providing a clear rationale.

On October 11, 2017, Cummings wrote to Zinke to request documents “relating to the reassignment of numerous Senior Executive Service (SES) employees and career civil servants within the Department of the Interior.”  He cited one employee named Joel Clement, who alleged that he was reassigned in retaliation for disclosures he made to George D. Banks, the Special Assistant to the President for International Energy and Environment, about the risks of climate change.  On February 14, 2018, Mr. Banks reportedly resigned his position at the White House “after being informed that he would not receive a permanent security clearance.”

The Department responded to Cummings’ letter on December 4, 2017, confirming that, “On June 15, 2017, 33 members of the Department’s career SES or 15 percent of the SES cadre received proposed or formal notices of reassignment.”  However, the Department produced only 176 pages of documents, including a nearly 60-page photocopy of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, which Congress passed 40 years ago, as well as copies of reassignment requests from the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Human Capital and Diversity to the Executive Resources Board and letters from the Executive Resources Board to each employee, and a chart tracking the planned moves of employees, but redacted it without adequate explanation.

“The Department produced no additional documents relating to Mr. Clement, the Department failed to produce any documents detailing the costs of the staff reassignments or any communications explaining how these reassignments would serve taxpayer interests, and the Department failed to respond to repeated inquiries about when—or whether—it plans to produce the remaining documents,” Cummings wrote. 

Click here to read today’s letter.

115th Congress