Federal resource agencies still lack confirmed leaders

As the Trump administration nears the end of its first 4-year term, a number of natural resource agencies still find themselves without permanent, Senate-confirmed leadership.

For the first time since its founding in 1916, the National Park Service has not had a confirmed director at any point during a president’s administration. Jon Jarvis, appointed by President Obama in 2009, left in January 2017. David Vela, a career NPS employee, was nominated to fill the post in August 2018. His nomination was advanced by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee but did not receive a vote in the full Senate before that Congress ended.

After the new Congress began in Jan. 2019, Vela was not re-nominated by the administration but was placed into an acting position, exercising the authority of director. He recently announced his retirement. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt selected Margaret Everson, the former principal deputy director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a counselor to Secretary, to “exercise the delegable authority of the director” of the NPS.

The Bureau of Land Management has not had a confirmed director this term, either. In June, William Perry Pendley, the deputy director for policy and programs, was nominated as director, after acting in the director position since July 2019. However, that nomination was withdrawn in August, without explanation from the administration. Pendley continues to serve as acting director, as a result of a succession order he signed in May. He serves in spite of concerns voiced by some lawmakers that executing the authority of the director in an indefinite capacity violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 and circumvents the U.S. Constitution.

The Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 indicates under what circumstances a government employee may temporarily perform the nondelegable functions and duties of a vacant agency position. It sets limits on who can be in an acting position and how long those acting assignments can last.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has not had a confirmed director during this administration. Aurelia Skipwith was confirmed as the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in December 2019. She was first nominated in October 2018, and re-nominated in July 2019.

Header Image: As the administration’s first term nears an end, some agencies still lack Senate-confirmed leadership.
Credit: BLM Washington and Oregon