Wyoming Lawmakers Like Zinke's Shakeup Plan At Interior

Jan 12, 2018

Old Faithful
Credit Bob Beck

Last year Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke infuriated Democrats when he announced intentions to cut about one third or about 4,000 people from his department. When Congress mostly rejected that plan in its funding bills, Zinke then focused more on a plan to reshape the department by moving key offices out West, to places like Denver. New Mexico Democratic Senator Tom Udall is dubious.

“It looks to me more like a dismantling rather than a reorganization, so I’m very worried about it.”

But Wyoming lawmakers think Washington is largely out of touch with the west, and they like the idea of getting D.C. bureaucrats out of their western hair. Wyoming Congressman Liz Cheney is a big fan of the idea.

“I support his efforts to try to move more of the agency, move more of the agency offices out of D.C., I know he’s talked about doing that, for example, with big parts of BLM. I’m supportive of that.”

But many western Democrats, such as Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva are not. 

“I’ve come to the kind of painful conclusion that Secretary Zinke is in over his head.”

Grijalva who is the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee. He says Zinke’s plan to drastically slash the Interior workforce doesn’t mesh with reality.

“At a time when we have a maintenance backlog, and we’re understaffed, can’t fill positions, people are leaving because they don’t want to work at Interior anymore, his solution to the budget is to cut more.”

Zinke and other Trump administration secretaries will soon unveil their ideas for cost-cutting when President Trump unveils his budget for the year. Wyoming’s senior senator, Mike Enzi, is the Senate Budget Chair. He says the Interior Department shouldn’t be immune from intense scrutiny.

“I don’t think there’s a single agency that couldn’t take a look at the number of employees that they have, particularly in the District of Columbia, and make some drastic changes and eliminate a lot of duplication and save us a lot of money.”

Enzi doesn’t understand the complaints from western Democrats who want the federal workforce who handles western issues based in the nation’s capital and not in their own backyards.  

“You need to be having the people where they’re actually serving the people that are supposed to be served. Not running huge bureaucracies here.”

For Enzi, it’s also about keeping Wyoming dollars in Wyoming.

“What I keep looking at is to see how much money makes it out into the states – out to the people that are supposed to be being served. A lot of it stops right here in D.C.” 

But many western lawmakers from both parties still question why the Trump administration hasn’t even submitted a nominee to head the National Park Service. Senator John Barrasso says it’s overdue.

“I’d like to see a director of the Park Service, one has not been yet named or confirmed by the United States Senate, I think that would be an important move to make.”

Still, Barrasso blames Democrats rather than the president.

“We’ve had a significant blockade by the Democrats on getting anyone confirmed. We just had a vote on the floor that was 98-0, but yet the Democrats made us go for a full 30 hours of cloture vote and expired time because they’re delaying.”

Western Democrats put the blame squarely at the Trump administration’s feet, but they also say they’re focused on protecting the workforce at the Interior Department rather than giving Trump another administrator set on gutting the very agency he’s tasked with running.