PRESS RELEASE

Peer Files New Information on Illegal Actions by Park Service Deputy Director

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For Immediate Release: May 14, 2019
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Peer Files New Information on Illegal Actions by Park Service Deputy Director

Inspector General Asked to Take Action Against Department of the Interior Violations

Washington, DC – Today, PEER filed new information with the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General asking it to investigate actions taken by the National Park Service’s Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith. PEER has now shown that Deputy Director Smith is taking actions given by law to the Director of the Park Service and that the Deputy Director’s claim to be “Exercising the Authority of the Director” is without legal basis. Deputy Director Smith cannot assume powers that are given by statute exclusively to a Senate-confirmed Director. Yet, after nearly two and one-half years in office, President Trump has neither named a Director of the Park Service nor obtained the Constitutionally-required “advice and consent” of the U.S. Senate.

“The National Park Service and Secretary Bernhardt have played various word games to mask Dan Smith’s improper actions,” said Peter Jenkins, PEER’s Senior Counsel. “But the United States’ globally-recognized and much-beloved National Park System should not be run by a person who has evaded Senate confirmation.”

The detailed filing supplements the formal complaint PEER lodged on April 17, now under consideration by the IG (file OIG-19-0467). The eight violations PEER documents include these examples:

  • Mr. Smith is sitting on the Board, and acting as the Secretary, of the National Park Foundation (https://www.nationalparks.org/about-foundation/board-directors), which conducts private/public fundraising nationwide on behalf of the National Parks. The law requires that the Park Service Director sit on the Board.
  • Mr. Smith has allowed “designees” to represent the Director in roles such as: 1) Chairman of the Capital’s Memorial Advisory Commission, which coordinates the planning for memorials on the National Mall, and 2) implementing the National Parks Air Tour Management Act, through which the Parks Director and Federal Aviation Administration Administrator regulate airplane and helicopter overflights in order to avoid excessive noise disturbance in the Parks. However, the underlying laws specifically require the Director or a designee to perform these roles. Since there is no Director there are no legal designees.
  • In addition, PEER identified the legal defects in Mr. Smith’s own appointment in January 2018 by then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, which included that Mr. Zinke not only named Smith as “Deputy Director,” but then he also named him as “acting Director” of the Park Service. However, under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act (FVRA) only President Trump could have named Smith as the acting Director.

The Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, directs the President to obtain Senate advice and consent for top agency officials such as the National Park Service Director. President Trump has not only refused to nominate a Director in the current Congress, he also refuses to appoint an “acting” Director, a power that only the President has under FVRA. Mr. Trump’s preference for unconfirmed, low-level political appointees is a dangerous precedent, violating Separation of Powers and creating a more politically-driven National Park Service.

In addition to Mr. Smith, PEER has documented seven other Interior bureau leaders who still lack the required Senate advice and consent, such as the political appointees acting as the Directors of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and other key offices. They are collectively known as “Bernhardt’s Bad Actors.”

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See PEER’s May 13 supplemental filing with the Interior Inspector General

See PEER’s complaint to Interior’s Inspector General

Read about Dan Smith’s illegal appointment of David Vela as Deputy Director

Read PEER “Bernhardt’s Bad Actors” report

Look at the longstanding legal cloud over Interior appointees

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