Tester Questions Zinke Over Decision to Reassign Native American Employees

Senator to Zinke: You Are Sending the Wrong Message to Tribes

(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senator Jon Tester is questioning Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to reassign a disproportionate number of Native American employees without reason or public input.

Nearly a third of the 33 senior Department of Interior officials who Zinke reassigned earlier this year are Native American, despite the fact that only 10 percent of the Department’s workforce are Native American.

Tester is asking for Zinke’s rationale in reassigning the Native American senior level officials, and expressing frustration that the Interior Department is making permanent changes that will hurt tribes.

“I understand these assignments are currently under investigation by several government agencies,” Tester wrote. “I urge you to further consider the devastating impacts this can have on initiatives in Indian Country. Coupled with severe understaffing and leadership vacancies at the Department, I am deeply concerned that these reassignments impact the agency’s ability to serve Native Americans and send the wrong message to Tribes.”

Tester took Zinke to task for not consulting with tribal governments before making such extreme staffing changes.

“Government works best when it is transparent and accountable,” Tester added. “Our workforce is strongest when it is diverse and reflects the people it serves-especially at the Department of Interior, which maintains a close relationship with our Tribal Nations and Native peoples.”

Tester earlier this year asked that Zinke meet with tribes before moving forward with his unclear plan to reorganize the Department of Interior. Zinke has yet to conduct a public meeting on his proposal or respond to Tester’s letter.

Tester is again calling on Zinke to answer a series of questions about his efforts to reorganize the Department of Interior to provide more transparency and insight into his decision to reassign Native American employees.

The Department of Interior Inspector General released a report this week that is critical of Zinke’s action to reassign staff. The report raises legal and ethical concerns that Zinke’s decision failed to comply with department requirements.

Tester’s letter to Zinke is available HERE.