For Immediate Release: Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Contact: Kirsten Stade, firstname.lastname@example.org
Why Was Pendley Chosen? BLM Has No Answers
BLM Can Find No Documents Explaining Pendley Selection or Qualifications
Washington, DC — In response to a lawsuit, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management says it can find “no records responsive” to a demand for information about who named William Perry Pendley to its top job or why. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has been seeking those documents under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since July 2019 and, after BLM stonewalled, PEER filed suit in November but has yet to receive the answers.
A divisive figure and self-described “Sagebrush Rebel,” Pendley has been the de facto top official at BLM for the past year. Late last week, the White House indicated that it would withdraw Pendley’s nomination to serve as BLM Director just weeks after it had been submitted to the Senate. BLM has not had a confirmed director during Trump’s tenure.
More than a year ago, on July 19, 2019, shortly after Pendley was first named, PEER submitted a FOIA request for any “documents and communications regarding: a) who appointed William Perry Pendley as BLM’s Deputy Director for Policy and Management, b) how he was appointed, and c) why he was appointed.” For the past year, BLM claims that it has been searching for records addressing PEER’s queries. It produced only one page: Pendley’s standard SF-50 Federal hiring form showing he was hired as a “Senior Executive Service (SES) Non-Career Appointment.” However, BLM provided none of the required justifications for Mr. Pendley receiving that exclusive SES appointment.
Finally, in a letter sent to PEER dated August 14, 2020, the agency admitted:
“In preparation for today’s release, we reviewed 7,862 pages of documents. After, sorting and deduplication, we have determined that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has no records responsive to your request.”
“Despite the absence of a paper trail, Pendley’s appointment was certainly no Immaculate Conception,” remarked PEER Senior Counsel Peter Jenkins, noting that mining, petroleum, and livestock interests, among others, stand to benefit from Pendley’s position. “Like cat burglars, the Trump operatives involved in bringing Pendley in to lead the BLM took pains to avoid leaving fingerprints behind.”
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act requires that the BLM Director “shall have a broad background and substantial experience in public land and natural resource management.” In a separate lawsuit challenging the legality of Pendley even serving as a de facto “acting” director, PEER contends that lawyer Pendley fails to meet this statutory standard.
In the wake of the White House reversal on his nomination, there are growing calls by Democrats in Congress for Pendley to step down and leave BLM altogether. This new admission by BLM may make the chorus of calls for his removal even louder.
“The failure to make even a half-hearted attempt to justify bringing Mr. Pendley into a leadership position suggests that his presence at BLM cannot withstand scrutiny,” added Jenkins, pointing out that BLM controls approximately one-eighth of the total U.S. land area. “Pendley’s short, illegitimate tenure has been a multi-dimensional mess that should end as soon as possible.”