Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke extended the terms of 10 temporary Department of the Interior (DOI) officials serving in place of Congressionally approved administrators, The Hill reports.
Zinke issued the order “to ensure uninterrupted management and execution of the duties of these vacant non-career positions” in January while the nomination process plays out between President Donald Trump and Congress. The positions affected include agency heads and officials serving in place of three assistant secretaries, according to Zinke’s order.
The government watchdog and environmental group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) warns Zinke’s order may be in violation of the Vacancies Reform Act, which sets guidelines and limits on temporary department officials serving in place of presidential nominees yet to be approved by Congress. The law’s purpose is to ensure that Congressional input is sought in staffing bureaucracies, The Hill reports.
The appointed officials are expressly limited to “only those functions or duties that are not required by statute or regulation to be performed only by the senate-confirmed official.” Zinke is responsible for the duties the appointed officials cannot do.
At request from PEER, the Interior Department Inspector General (IG) investigated potential violations of three officials serving as agency heads: P. Daniel Smith of the National Park Service, Brian Steed of the Bureau of Land Management and Greg Sheehan of the Fish and Wildlife Service.
The IG cleared the three officials and Zinke of any violations because they were not serving as direct replacements for officials vetted through the nomination process.
“We determined that while these individuals have been referred to as ‘acting’ in various news reports and Department press releases, all three of them have been formally given the title of deputy director,” the IG wrote.
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