House holds hearing on Interior Department reorganization

By Kaitlyn Miller

©Bob Wick/BLM

On December 7, the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing titled “Transforming the Department of the Interior for the 21st Century.” The hearing examined goals and policy ideas for reorganizing and relocating parts of the Department of the Interior in response to a March 2017 executive order (13781) on reorganizing the executive branch to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of government agencies.

The hearing memo, drafted by the majority committee staff, suggests providing more authority to state and field-level managers and relocating the headquarters of some of its bureaus, in particular the Bureau of Land Management, to western states. This idea has been championed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has talked publicly of similar reorganization goals.

Denis Galvin from the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks, one of the witnesses at the hearing, was concerned about the lack of transparency and opportunity for public input in reorganization efforts. Although a DOI reorganization plan has been sent to the Office of Management and Budget, nothing has been released to the public about the goals, costs, or likely effects of reorganization.

Galvin as well as another witness, Kathleen Sgamma from the Western Energy Alliance, also expressed concern about a stated goal of the Secretary to have one agency lead regional headquarters on a rotating basis. Conflicting agency priorities resulting from conflicting agency missions could result in problems implementing this goal.

Sgamma also expressed hesitation over discussions to change the DOI agency command structure from ones based on political boundaries to ones based on landscapes. This was specifically the case for BLM offices, which currently operate within the confines of state boundaries.

Other witnesses, such as Nicolas Loris from the Heritage Foundation and Shawn Regan from the Property and Environmental Research Center, spoke of the need for deregulation in order to allow for market-based solutions on public lands to take hold.

While the need to reorganize the Department was not dismissed outright by any witness, the lack of any official Department materials on the subject leaves many uncertainties as to how this effort would be implemented.

Kaitlyn Miller is a policy intern at The Wildlife Society as part of the Wildlife Policy and Programs team. Read more of Kaitlyn's articles here.