In a blistering complaint filed Monday with the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General, an environmental advocacy group is urging the agency to review what it says are “blatant violations” of federal vacancy laws committed by President Donald Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
In the letter, the organization, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), claims that Trump and Zinke have violated the Federal Vacancies Reform Act by bypassing crucial—and mandatory—Senate advice and consent laws when it comes to confirming new agency directors. Instead of doing his job and nominating permanent replacements to serve as the heads of three Interior Department agencies, Trump has installed three acting directors—circumventing the law’s requirement that agency chiefs undergo Senate confirmation.
Those positions include the heads of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Fish & Wildlife Service.
“These three positions are to be filled through presidential appointment subject to the advice and consent of the Senate as required by the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution (Article II, Section 2). As such, they fall under the jurisdiction of the Act, which prevents the President from circumventing the constitutional advice and consent role of the U.S. Senate by simply appointing people to serve as ‘acting’ directors for long periods and completely bypassing Senate confirmation,” the letter says.
What’s more, PEER points out that all three acting directors—Dan Smith of the NPS, Brian Steed of the BLM, and Greg Sheehan of the FWS—seem to be ineligible for their jobs. The FVRA requires acting directors to have served in their respective agencies for at least 90 days in the year before the vacancy occurred, which the three men apparently did not. It’s also not within Zinke’s purview to appoint acting directors—that’s the president’s job—but that didn’t stop him from announcing that he appointed Smith, Steed, and Sheehan.