Secretary of the Interior defends budget proposal

By Laura Bies

Congressional appropriators held a hearing last week on the Department of the Interior’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021. ©Lisa Hupp/USFWS

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt appeared last week in front of the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, defending the administration’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2021.

That budget proposal would reduce funding for the Department of the Interior by 13%, while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service would see a nearly 17% cut. The budget proposal would halve funding for State and Tribal Wildlife Grants, and drastically reduce funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Bernhardt’s brief written testimony to the subcommittee focused on the administration’s overall spending priorities for the coming year. During the hearing, Bernhardt supported recent efforts to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Act — even though the administration’s budget proposal nearly eliminated funding for the program.

The secretary also fielded questions about the department’s interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Interior recently published a proposed rule reducing the ability of the MBTA to prevent actions that injure or kill native birds. Previous departmental interpretations of the bill applied to both intentional and unintentional take of protected migratory birds.  The proposed rule would codify the administration’s new interpretation that the law only applies to the intentional take of birds.

The House Natural Resources Committee also held a hearing to review the administration’s budget proposal for the Department of the Interior. Interior’s assistant secretary of policy, management and budget, Susan Combs, appeared before that subcommittee, also offering testimony on the administration’s budget priorities.

Congressional appropriators may consider the administration’s recommendations as they draft the appropriations bills for FY 2021, but they are not required to follow them. Indications from

House and Senate leadership are that they will follow the overall spending levels the Congress set last year, rather than invoke the budget cuts suggested by the administration.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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