Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said all employees feeling mistreated have the right to “pursue all options” and that those protections “exist to promote good government.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said all employees feeling mistreated have the right to “pursue all options” and that those protections “exist to promote good government.” Flickr user Gage Skidmore

Alleged Retaliation Against Senior Executives Prompts Bipartisan Concern

One senator will request an investigation into controversial reassignments.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed concern about the Interior Department’s alleged retaliation against an employee who spoke out on the dangers of climate change, warning the Trump administration against reassignments as a means to silence civil servants.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the ranking member on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said she plans to ask for an investigation into the claims career Senior Executive Service employee Joel Clement put forward in a Washington Post op-ed last week. Clement said he was involuntarily reassigned to an accounting position after serving as Interior’s director of the Office of Policy Analysis after sounding the alarm on the risks climate change posed to Alaska Native populations. The supervisor filed a complaint and disclosure with the Office of Special Counsel.

She went on to question Interior and Energy department nominees during a confirmation hearing last week on how they would protect the SES and guard against retaliatory or arbitrary reassignments just because executives “believe in science.”

“We need to make sure those individuals who have had the experience, who are involved in science, are going to continue to fulfill those responsibilities,” Cantwell said.

She added reorganizations should not provide agencies with an excuse to replace those with scientific experience with political appointees without those qualifications. “I’m concerned enough that I intend to ask the inspector general to look into it,” Cantwell said.

The senator was joined by seven of her Democratic colleagues on Monday in sending a letter to the IG calling the allegations "extremely troubling" and formally requesting the investigation.

“We believe that any reassignment of highly trained, highly competent senior executives within the department from the positions in which they may best use their training and competence to accomplish the department’s mission and best serve the public interest to sinecures where their talents are wasted would constitute a serious act of mismanagement, a gross waste of public funds, and an abuse of authority,” the senators wrote.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who co-chairs the Senate Whistleblower Protection Caucus, told Government Executive all employees feeling mistreated have the right to “pursue all options” and that those protections “exist to promote good government.”

“Executive branch agencies need to make sure they’re getting the most value for taxpayers,” Grassley said. “Moving employees to positions where they don’t contribute isn’t good government.” The senator helped write the 2012 Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, which clarified that employees disclosing evidence of censorship of scientific or technical information were protected under the law.

Just after Clement posted his op-ed, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a report accusing the Trump administration of “sidelining science” on a systemic, governmentwide basis. Michael Halpern, deputy director of UCS’ Center for Science and Democracy, said Clement’s allegations were consistent with the findings of his report.

“They’re paralyzing the department,” Halpern said of the Trump administration. “It’s about scrubbing away any independent analysis that could be inconvenient to the policies they want to put forward.”

He added that every presidential administration tends to champion the data that is consistent with its policy positions, but under Trump it was happening “on steroids.”  

“They’re being very creative about it,” Halpern said. “It’s everything from reassigning employees to render them ineffective to suspending advisory committees.”

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., who holds a degree in mechanical engineering and served an AmeriCorps stint at the Fish and Wildlife Service, said at the confirmation hearing he was also concerned. 

“What worries me the most about the current administration is the disdain and distrust that has been directed at science data and scientists,” Heinrich said.

In an interview with Government Executive last week, Clement said his reassignment had a “profound chilling effect” on his staff.

“They were really freaked out after my reassignment,” Clement said. Of the department writ large, he added, “Walking into that place is like walking into a morgue. People are looking over their shoulders wondering if they’re next.”

Bill Valdez, president of the Senior Executives Association, said Interior appeared to be using its "lawful authority" in reassigning Clement, but he applauded Congress for its oversight "to ensure that these personnel actions are proper and in the best interests of taxpayers." 

(Image via Flickr user Gage Skidmore)

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.