Congress wants to know why the incoming Interior Chief is keeping his calendar secret

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This narrative was originally published by Mother Jones and is replicated here as a portion of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The acting head of the Interior Department David Bernhardt claims he’s to take a little card round to remind himself the list of his former clients that he ought to avoid, but the former oil and gas lobbyist insists he doesn’t desire to maintain a detailed daily calendar. “I have no legal obligation to personally maintain a calendar,” Bernhardt wrote in a letter to Congress in late February. “Further, no Agency guidance exists recommending that I create or retain one. I have not personally maintained a calendar for years, and I have no intention of suddenly doing so now.”

The fight over Bernhardt’s calendars signals among the bigger controversies beforehand in his tenure after his likely confirmation as Interior secretary. Environmentalists have billed Bernhardt, and his predecessor Ryan Zinke, of politicizing Freedom of Information Act responses, omitting calendar entries, as well as stretching the boundaries of the Federal Records Act.

“It worries me a lot that that’s not being followed,” House Natural Resources Chair Raúl Grijalva (a Democrat from Arizona) informs Mother Jones. The calendar “is the window into decision-making.”

Calendars of public officials might help show that is influencing the policy and provide a degree of accountability when certain special interests arise to possess a particular grip over the decision-making. Scott Pruitt’s ancient calendars showed his close coordination with oil industry executives, by way of instance, as his EPA decided to reverse regulations on methane emissions. It’s become more prevalent for officials to maintain secret calendars.

Since Bernhardt was first confirmed as the deputy secretary in the summertime of 2017, the public has had relatively few details about how he buys his times while running an agency responsible for a fifth of the nation’s landmass. Most of all the calendars which Interior has made available shortage descriptions about who is meeting with and calling. Bernhardt has over two-dozen former clients along with also a wider web of industry contacts by your career spent in the lobbying industry.

As I mentioned in my profile Bernhardt:

Bernhardt’s understanding of the division’s workings and the allies he is installed in key political places empower him to steer its complicated network of decentralized offices while leaving few fingerprints. His calendars frequently have little detail in them; the environmental team Western Values Project has noticed how couple of his emails turn up in their regular Freedom of Information Act asks to the Interior. “Kind of amazing that he can do anything without leaving a paper trail behind him,” said Aaron Weiss, media director of Center for Western Priorities, another conservation team.

On the eve of David Bernhardt’s Senate confirmation hearing Thursday to lead the Department of the Interior, the House Natural Resources employees had 27,000 pages of internal documents which it hadn’t processed or examined. Interior delivered over the batch earlier this week in reaction to the committee’s continued requests for greater communications surrounding the acting secretary’s activities and decision-making, in an effort to tease out just how much it has been influenced by his prior relationship with oil, gas, and mining industries.

“That’s a good example of what’s been a pattern under Zinke and now under Bernhardt, which is to basically to make it very difficult for people to get information.”

On Wednesday, Grijalva advised Mother Jones which his employees is investigating the question of whether Bernhardt has circumvented maintaining an ongoing list of his afternoon -todaily activities by relying upon a Google Doc calendar to get his detailed schedule which is overwritten daily. The thing is concerning for the chair since it raises questions regarding whether Interior is breaking a national records legislation in deleting his daily program and claiming it drops outside FOIA’s purview.

House Oversight Chair Elijah Cummings (a Democrat from Maryland) pressed the question in a hearing earlier with an acting deputy FOIA director earlier this month.

“Is the calendar for the acting Secretary deleted at the end of each day, do you know that?” he inquired. The deputy FOIA director, Rachel Spector, replied she didn’t, however confessed “that the solicitor’s office in the department is working with the records officer in the department to determine what’s occurred there, and whether it’s consistent.”

Interior’s political appointees have exerted greater control over the FOIA procedure in recent months. At the ending of 2018, a political appointee that is a former Charles and David Koch adviser accountable for responding to and fielding requests. Then, in a House Natural Resources budget hearing Wednesday, Grijalva pointed to a March 14 email from a senior Interior official, whose name was redacted, asking that “any correspondence being sent to any Senator as well as Representative Grijalva NOT be sent until you have further direction.” Grijalva mentioned the timing of the instructions was significant: The following day the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee publicly declared Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing date.

Democratic senators program to inquire Bernhardt directly about his calendars in the Thursday hearing. Nonetheless, very little still stands in the method of his confirmation in the GOP-controlled room, following which Bernhardt will certainly face more questions from the Democratic House.

“Why go through all these machinations?” Grijalva asked. “Why deny me or the senators information if there’s not something you’re hiding and something you’re concerned about?”

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