Dems Grill Zinke About Native American Reassignments

on March 13, 2018 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee/Getty Images North America

A routine budget hearing became heated when Democrats challenged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about the reassignment of nearly a dozen senior Native American employees. TPM first reported last week that Native Americans made up a full third of the officials pushed out of their positions in a major reshuffling last summer.

“In June, when you reassigned 33 career senior executives, almost half of them were minorities. Specifically, 30 percent were Native Americans,” the Appropriations subcommittee’s top Democrat, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), charged in her opening statement, citing TPM’s reporting. “This apparent discrimination is just wrong, and I am disturbed by reports that you have said repeatedly that you believe diversity isn’t important in the Interior Department.”

“A Department that serves the American public, that tells the story of America, should reflect its diversity and should never marginalize minorities,” she added. “Mr. Secretary, you must do better.”

Before beginning his prepared testimony, Zinke hit back.

“The openings were false and misleading and blatantly untruthful,” Zinke said, referring to members opening statements. He did not provide additional detail.

The reassignment of Native Americans was far out of proportion to their numbers at DOI, where they make up less than 10 percent of the workforce. A list of the 33 reassigned workers was released after one of them filed a Freedom of Information Act request. Some of the officials are challenging their ouster.

Investigations by the DOI’s Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office into Zinke’s disproportionate targeting of minority employees are ongoing.

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