Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., said: "There comes a fundamental time where this committee has to establish itself as a co-equal."

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., said: "There comes a fundamental time where this committee has to establish itself as a co-equal." House Television via AP

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Committee Votes for Subpoena Authority Over Interior's Employee Relocations, Other Documents

"We’re not here as potted plants to be watered when the administration decides it’s time," panel chairman says.

A House committee on Wednesday voted to subpoena documents from the Interior Department, elevating a feud between lawmakers and agency officials pushing through many key reforms. 

The resolution granted far-reaching subpoena power to Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, who has consistently butted heads with Interior since taking control of the panel last year. Democrats on the panel have sought more documents and information on a bevy of department activity, including the relocation of the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters from Washington to western Colorado. 

Republicans on the committee objected to the new authority, suggesting it was too broad and partisan. Grijalva countered his requests have been “persistent and constant,” and the information provided by the administration has been “spotty, if there, at best.” 

“I have not wanted to chase things down a rabbit hole and just create issues to create issues, but there comes a fundamental time where this committee has to establish itself as a co-equal,” Grijalva said. “We’re not here as potted plants to be watered when the administration decides it’s time, nor are we here to be cheerleaders for any position the administration might take.”

Specifically, the resolution would enable the committee to subpoena any records related to “waste, fraud, abuse and wrongful conduct” at Interior. Grijalva agreed to changes presented by the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to ensure the minority has advance notice of subpoenas before they are issued. 

Interior has blown past a deadline Grijalva set to provide the number of Bureau of Land Management employees who agreed to relocate. Employees had until Dec. 12 to decide if they would accept the mandatory reassignments or lose their jobs. Those who agreed to relocate have until mid-March to report to their duty stations. 

Grijalva also sent a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last month demanding a full cost-benefit analysis and other documents used to justify the decision to move the headquarters and all but 60 of its Washington-based employees. In a New Year’s Eve letter, Bernhardt said he found Grijalva’s concerns “curious” since he had offered to personally brief the chairman.

Bernhardt’s offer was “part of a pattern whereby we request data and you offer to meet for a discussion,” Grijalva said. “Your feelings about moving BLM headquarters to Colorado are clear and I do not require a meeting to discuss them. What I require is the supporting data you say you have, but will not provide.”

Interior has provided a two-page spreadsheet showing the department expects to save $13 million by 2024, but has yet to give lawmakers the detailed analysis they have requested.

Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director for the Center for Western Priorities, a vocal opponent of the Trump administration’s management of public lands, praised the committee's resolution. 

“Today’s vote is a welcome step towards holding [Interior Secretary] Bernhardt accountable for his extreme lack of transparency,” Prentice-Dunn said. “Hopefully Congressional oversight can shine a spotlight on the Trump administration’s extreme efforts to grant the policy wishes of corporations, rather than conserve our public lands for future generations.”