Friday, January 19, 2018

Zinke says science is key to agency shake-up. Is he sincere?

Brittany Patterson, E&E News reporter

When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke launched a massive reorganization of the department last week, he said good science would help him chart the changes. But former officials are raising questions about Zinke's commitment to the scientific process. During a two-day symposium at Interior headquarters last week, Zinke unveiled a map showing 13 proposed regions. Each one would encompass hundreds of thousands of square miles, where the agency's regional bureaus would focus on issues based on their landscapes. That caught the attention of former officials. They lauded the ambitiousness of Zinke's plan to reorient the agency around ecosystems and watersheds. But they are also expressing concern about Zinke's treatment of science, saying his budgetary actions contradict his plan to redraw the agency around a region's terrain. "It lacks some credibility because he's talking about serious staff reductions and making major decisions like cuts to monuments that are majorly political and not based on the science, and now he wants science to support this regional structure," said Andrew Rosenberg, who served as deputy director of NOAA Fisheries under the Clinton administration. Zinke said in a video announcement last week that he's charting the agency's new course based on a vision by John Wesley Powell, the second director of USGS. Interior will no longer draw its boundaries based on state and regional lines, Zinke said, but will draw them based on "ecosystems, watersheds and science."
Note to Readers
If you haven't seen it, below is the Zinke video referred to. Zinke makes several disturbing statements which we'll discuss later. The focus, now though, is on his proposed reorganization.

Other officials are wondering how Zinke can pull off a massive reorganization based on science after proposing such deep cuts to those very programs. He has also rescinded climate change policies. "The goals of coordination are important, and so, too, are missions of the specific bureaus, and figuring out how to balance those has been at least a three-decade-long proposition across administrations," said Lynn Scarlett, a former Interior Department deputy secretary and chief operating officer who also served as acting Interior secretary during the George W. Bush administration. Scarlett, who is now global managing director for public policy at the Nature Conservancy, noted that good science is essential "to underpin and inform virtually all the Department of the Interior's decisionmaking." Cuts to federal science programs jeopardize the ability of the science to get into the hands of federal decisionmakers, she added. nterior officials have pushed to restructure the agency for decades. Marcia McNutt, who served as former President Obama's first USGS director, said the idea was floated during her tenure to better align regional bureaus. "It's not a new idea, and it's not a bad idea," she said, adding that Zinke seems to be underselling the biggest benefits of his proposed reorganization. "I haven't seen climate change being touted as one of the main reasons for this reorganization, and certainly when it was discussed earlier, that was one of the primary motivations for trying to realign all the bureaus to be in sync," McNutt said. One example was launched under Obama. The 22 Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) are at their heart science-based. And they cost just $13 million. Administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the program is aimed at improving conservation efforts across federal, state, tribal and private lands. It was designed to bring partners together across broad regions to improve the resilience of ecosystems and protect species affected by climate change and other threats. President Trump's fiscal 2018 budget proposal zeroed out its funding. "I was interested to see that Zinke's reorganization highlighted the need to shift to collaborative science, because that already exists through Interior at the Fish and Wildlife Service's LCCs," said Anne Carlson, senior climate adaptation specialist with the Wilderness Society. "It feels very much like he's reinventing the wheel."...more

In May of last year. the House Committee on Natural Resources issued the following press release
WASHINGTON, D.C., May 3, 2017 -Today, Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) and Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Chairman Raúl Labrador (R-ID) sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke expressing concerns and requesting information on two climate change adaptation programs established within the Department of the Interior during the Obama administration.The Climate Science Centers (CSCs), which are led by the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs), which are principally managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have both been identified as having insufficient internal controls, lacking transparency and potentially funding duplicative research.   “Despite a significant federal investment of at least $149 million,  their effectiveness, management, and levels of oversight remain serious concerns to the Committee. Since their inception, the CSCs and LCCs have lacked necessary internal controls, failed to develop effective communication policies, and have put taxpayer dollars at risk by acting in contravention of guidelines issued by Interior and the Office of Management and Budget,” the letter states.  “Most recently OIG issued a program evaluation in which it found that taxpayer dollars are further imperiled due to the fact that the ‘CSCs and LCCs had no formal process to coordinate the prevention of duplication in research grants...’ In its review, OIG found that the CSCs and LCCs lacked a written policy for coordination, and that the LCCs failed to adequately keep track of their projects in a centralized database that could be utilized and accessed program-wide.”Click here to read the full letter.
The article states Trump's proposed budget "zeroed out" the funding for the LCCs. However, Congress has continued to fund the CSCs and LCCs, so this may not be much of a threat. And if they were established administratively, they could have been disbanded administratively, and to my knowledge have not been disbanded.

Despite the OIG reports and the concerns expressed by Bishop and Labrador, Zinke appears to base his reorganization on the same concept - ecosystem management. Some will say the Obama LCCs were the first step, and now Zinke proposes to implement the same management scheme in a fashion not even dared by the Obama administration. You will note the enviro reps quoted are critical of budget proposals, but not of the overall concept. Some think this is what they have been after for years.

We will be evaluating all this as more information becomes available. One should not, however, limit their evaluation through the lens of "what is the most scientific way to manage resources." That has to be overlaid with our form of government. Will this proposed reorganization increase or diminish the role of states in resource management? Will it increase or diminish the role of the feds in resource management? How will this affect the role of Congress in authorizing, oversight and appropriations?

Surely there is a more "scientific" way to pass a budget than what we are currently witnessing, but it is a small price to pay to maintain our representative republic. Our Founding Fathers designed a multitiered system to protect our liberty by restraining government. Their efforts had nothing to do with "scientific" management or efficiency. That's the lens through which we should evaluate this and other proposals.


Floyd said...

In the third paragraph of the editors comments there are several valid questions but one important one is left out. Neither the Secretary's comments nor the editor's comments discuss how the proposal will affect the recognition of valid existing rights (i.e. water rights, easements, rights of way, grazing rights, etc.) that are property rights owned by federal land users under each State's laws. The definitions and statutory recognition of property, including property held with title in equity, is a matter of state law not federal law so the DOI will still have to work on issues within each state's boundaries

Frank DuBois said...

Floyd, you are right. I didn't include individual rights, but I left them out on purpose. Those rights vary from state to state, and some are not yet settled law. So I decided, especially for the audience I'm targeting, to stick to the structure of government thesis.