Statement from Joel Clement and Katherine Atkinson in response to the Department of Interior’s Inspector General’s report on the reassignment of career SES employees

Washington, D.C.—Today, Joel Clement, the civil servant who filed a whistleblower complaint against the Department of the Interior, and Katherine Atkinson, the attorney from Wilkenfeld, Herendeen & Atkinson representing Joel Clement, released the following statements in response to the Department of Interior’s (DOI) Inspector General’s (IG’s) report on the reassignment of career SES employees. The IG Report confirms that the political leadership at Interior sat behind closed doors and made employment decisions based on punitive or discriminatory reasons.

Joel Clement said: “I am stunned by the level of incompetence that this report describes; there were so few records kept that the Inspector General can’t even make a determination of the legality of the reassignment actions,” says Joel Clement. “It’s remarkable that the political staff at Interior would be so blithe, thoughtless, and careless during a time of intense scrutiny. It begs the question, what did they have to hide?

“At very least, the mass reassignment demonstrated incredibly poor workplace management, including discrimination, wasted taxpayer dollars, and a callous disregard for the career staff at the agency,” Clement said. “If they wanted to prove just how poorly the Interior Department would be run by the Trump Administration, they checked all the boxes. However, there are also clear indications of political motivations for some of the reassignments, including mine. This is a long-established no-no; there are important reasons to keep the civil service partitioned from the political winds and whims of each new administration. While every incoming administration would love to bend the career ranks to their every wish, they generally know better than to try. The Trump Administration, to put it simply, just doesn’t know better.

“This report sends up a red flag that indicates a deeper investigation is necessary, I hope that Congress will seek more information from the ERB members at Interior, and consider how and when Interior should do right by the executives who were impacted by discrimination or retaliation. In the meantime, Secretary Zinke, the only Senate-confirmed employee at Interior when these reassignments took place, should resign.”

Katherine Atkinson said: "The absence of evidence is itself damning evidence.  Retaliation and discrimination cases rarely involve a ‘smoking gun.’  Instead, they involve suspicious facts and holes in the record.  The hole in this record is unprecedented.  The Inspector General’s Report confirms my belief that the political leadership at the Department of the Interior sat behind closed doors and made employment decisions based on punitive or discriminatory reasons.

"Leadership at the Department of the Interior did not have the information necessary to make informed decisions. They reassigned employees without taking into account cost or its own rationale for moves in the first place, and then failed to collect any of the information necessary to document its decisions. Furthermore, the decision to reassign career SES employees went against the Deputy Solicitor’s legal advice for communicating these moves to these public servants.

"This is a prime example of a leadership failure at the highest level.  The investigation should not stop here. The OIG Report calls into question the Executive Resources Board (ERB) members’ credibility.  Failing to remember facts a few months after an incident, inconsistent statements between witnesses, and illogical explanations are trademarks of untruthful statements.  Given this, I ask the Oversight Committee and Energy Committee in both houses of Congress to call the ERB members to testify about their rationale for the reassignments.  Members of Congress, the devoted federal executives, and the American people should have an opportunity to assess the credibility of the ERB members and the legitimacy of their explanations."