The top House Democrat with oversight of the federal workforce requested a subpoena of documents related to the reassignment of dozens of senior executives at the Interior Department, saying the Trump administration has so far stymied efforts to bring transparency to the decisions.
Interior sent 176 pages of documents to Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in response to a request he made in October. More than one-third of that was a photocopied version of the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act, however, and Cummings said the rest was heavily redacted and failed to shine light on all of his questions. The department has faced criticisms from internal whistleblowers and outside groups for the reassignments of Senior Executive Service employees, alleging the transfers amounted to political retribution. About 15 percent of Interior’s career senior executives received proposed notices or notices of reassignment on June 15, 2017.
Cummings wrote his letter to Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who chairs the oversight panel. Interior failed to provide any insight on the costs of the reassignments or how they would serve the best interest of taxpayers. Cummings asked Gowdy specifically to compel the department to provide unredacted documents and said the request falls “squarely within our jurisdiction.”
» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.
“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. He said if Gowdy declined to issue the subpoena himself, it should at least be put to a vote before the committee.
Republicans on the panel earlier in February blocked Democrats' efforts to submit 19 subpoenas to boost oversight efforts on an array of issues in the Trump administration. The reassignments, however, have stoked bipartisan concerns on Capitol Hill.
The reassignments at Interior gained widespread attention when one SESer, Joel Clement, penned an op-ed in The Washington Post claiming he was sent to a job for which he had no relevant experience as punishment for speaking out on climate change issues. Clement said the reassignments had created a “profound chilling effect” at Interior and the department had become “like walking into a morgue.” A few months later, Clement resigned, citing what he identified as an “all-out assault on the civil service.”
Bill Valdez, president of the Senior Executives Association, has said Interior appeared to be using its "lawful authority" in assigning SESers, but also applauded Congress for using its oversight authority "to ensure that these personnel actions are proper and in the best interests of taxpayers." For its part, Interior has maintained that senior executives are supposed to move around and the transfers were designed to “better serve the taxpayer and the department’s operations.”