The Washington Post on Thursday reported that the Department of the Interior raises the department's official flag above its Washington, D.C. headquarters to indicate when Secretary Ryan Zinke visits the office.
Zinke—who has cultivated a reputation for launching unprecedented attacks on public lands and jettisoning key protections for wildlife—"has revived an arcane military ritual that no one can remember ever happening in the federal government," the Post reported.
The Post explained:
A security staffer takes the elevator to the seventh floor, climbs the stairs to the roof and hoists a special secretarial flag whenever Zinke enters the building. When the secretary goes home for the day or travels, the flag—a blue banner emblazoned with the agency's bison seal flanked by seven white stars representing the Interior bureaus—comes down.
In Zinke's absence, the ritual is repeated to raise an equally obscure flag for Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt.
Responding this week to questions from the Washington Post, a spokeswoman for Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander, defended the Navy flag-flying tradition as "a major sign of transparency."
"Ryan Zinke is proud and honored to lead the Department of the Interior, and is restoring honor and tradition to the department, whether it's flying the flag when he is in garrison or restoring traditional access to public lands," press secretary Heather Swift said in an email.
While flying a flag to indicate that the boss is on-site remains a military custom, it has for the past several years fallen out of practice among the federal government agencies—although it reportedly remains part of the department's official manual. Zinke is a former Navy SEAL.
"I'm all about tradition.... but I kind of have an aversion to militarizing everything in our government," Joseph McMillan, a retired Defense Department official who is a student of flag history and president of the American Heraldry Society, told the Post. "The world doesn't need to know the secretary of the Interior is in the building."
"We're talking about cabinet members and federal buildings, not the Queen of England and Buckingham Palace," added Chris Lu, deputy labor secretary in the Obama administration. In the U.K., royal residences indicate the queen's presence by raising the Royal Standard.
The report provoked several jokes on social media, often accompanied by ridicule of Zinke's agenda as head of the Interior Department.
His Royal Heinous Sir Ryan of Zinke, clown prince of Interior, has an official flag that is raised when he appears at his departmental seat. pic.twitter.com/N4SIlly3pS
— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) October 12, 2017
BANNON: It's more of a populist thing we're going for. You can ride a horse, wear a cowboy hat...
ZINKE: But I still get my own flag, right? pic.twitter.com/BD1y1ldgio
— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) October 13, 2017
These people - one is crazier than the next. Truly. Bottom of the barrel! https://t.co/qPGuPdGqI8
— Amy Siskind (@Amy_Siskind) October 12, 2017
Funniest Trump admin spin since Price's private flights were about "real Americans": Zinke's personal flag is "major sign of transparency." pic.twitter.com/2VvZnl3mFv
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) October 12, 2017
So if Zinke works until 2AM one night, then some poor schmuck has to stay until he leaves just to take down a flag?
— Michael Abromowitz (@FootballExpert) October 12, 2017