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For Immediate Release: Feb 12, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

TEMPORARY INTERIOR DEPARTMENT DIRECTORS ILLEGAL

All Decisions by Acting Park Service, BLM, and Fish & Wildlife Heads Legally Void


Washington, DC — President Trump’s record tardiness in nominating agency leaders may undo months of work inside the Department of Interior, according to a complaint filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The way the Trump administration has filled agency leadership slots with temporary or acting directors violates a law enacted to prevent a president from circumventing the U.S. Senate’s constitutional advice and consent power.

The PEER complaint filed with Interior’s Office of Inspector General charges that the acting directors of the National Park Service (NPS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) are in blatant violation of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. Under that act, any action taken by a noncompliant official “shall have no force or effect” nor may it be later “ratified.”

“The law prevents a president from installing acting directors for long periods and completely bypassing Senate confirmation,” argued PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that President Trump has not nominated or even announced an intention to nominate, persons to fill the NPS, BLM, or FWS vacancies.
“Federal agencies are not supposed to be run like a temp service.”

The complaint recounts Vacancies Reform Act violations invalidating the appointments of –

  • NPS Acting Director P. Daniel Smith, who did not serve in a senior position for 90 days during the prior year, as the Act requires. Nor did Trump appoint him, another requirement of the act;
  • BLM Acting Director Brian Steed, who also did not serve in a senior position for 90 days and Interior Secretary Zinke, not Trump, appointed him.
  • FWS Acting Director Greg Sheehan, who not only suffers from these same deficiencies but also now exceeds the 210-day limit the act imposes.

These legal infirmities give rise to an additional basis for challenging actions taken by these agencies during the past few months in court. For example, Greg Sheehan at FWS has changed Endangered Species Act procedures, among other actions – all of which are void and vulnerable to lawsuits. PEER is asking the Inspector General to compile all of the invalid actions taken in violation of the Vacancies Reform Act.

“Trump’s dereliction of duty has created the anomaly of acting directors unable to act,” added Ruch, noting that some previous Trump acting directors in these agencies also remained in acting director positions too long. “This chronic leadership failure casts a deep, murky legal shadow across a wide range of Interior decisions that may be legal nullities.”

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Read the PEER complaint

Look at Vacancy Reform Act text

See the shady background of acting Park Service director