For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 
Contact: 

Meg Townsend, (248) 310-3684, mtownsend@biologicaldiversity.org

Zinke Puts Koch Crony in Charge of Interior Department’s Public Records Process

WASHINGTON - In an order quietly signed right before Thanksgiving, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke reassigned the responsibility of overseeing Freedom of Information Act requests from a career staffer to the Interior Department’s solicitor — a political appointee who oversees the department’s legal work.

President Trump has not nominated someone to the solicitor post, which requires Senate confirmation. Instead Dan Jorjani, a former Koch Foundation strategist, has impermissibly been serving as the “acting” solicitor for the past two years. Secretarial Order 3371, signed Nov. 20, gives Jorjani the role of chief FOIA officer.

“Zinke is politicizing Interior’s Freedom of Information Act process to deny the public access to information and hide the oil industry’s dirty secrets,” said Meg Townsend, the Center for Biological Diversity’s open government attorney. “With a Koch crony in charge of records requests, the department will work in darkness. Public records that might shame Zinke or big polluters will be covered up, and our public lands and wildlife will suffer.”

Currently, the chief FOIA officer for the Department of the Interior is the chief information officer, a career position designed to be apolitical. In addition to transferring this role to the solicitor, Secretarial Order 3371 creates a new position of deputy chief FOIA officer and mandates the formation of a separate team to “provide strategic direction for selected FOIA requests that impact Department-level interests.” This is known as the FOIA Assistance Coordination Team (FACT).

“We’re heading into 2019, but it feels like 1984. This Orwellian ‘FACT’ team will allow political operatives to prevent important scientific information from reaching the American people,” Townsend said.

In just the past 18 months, Secretary Zinke has issued 27 secretarial orders, slashing protections for public lands and wildlife without public input. In contrast, in eight years the Obama administration issued only 32 secretarial orders from Interior, mostly to expand environmental protections, broaden national monument designations, and clarify the department’s policies and actions.

“Zinke has no regard for public lands, little interest in transparency, and barely any respect for the rule of law,” Townsend said. “He continues to act through unilateral decrees rather than open processes because he knows that the American people profoundly disagree with his extreme anti-environmental agenda.”

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