Native American senior officials of the Interior Department were disproportionately reassigned under Interior Secretary Zinke, according to a review by Talking Points Memo. Less than 10 percent of the Interior’s employees are Native American, but made up nearly one third of the employees caught up in reassignment shuffle last summer. The news comes less than a week after reports that Zinke constantly talks about how he doesn’t care about diversity. Weird!
Former government officials told TPM that the shakeup was an attempt to reduce, “internal opposition to Zinke’s plan to open up more tribal and public lands to the fossil fuel industry.”
Of the 33 reassigned staffers, at least ten are members of Native tribes, including the Chickasaw Nation, Miami Nation, and Ogala Sioux. Many other staffers were black and Latino.
Congressional Democrats are seeking a probe into the Interior to investigate the discrimination claims. From TPM:
“I am particularly concerned that the employees affected were disproportionately minority,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), the top Democrat on the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, told TPM in a statement. “The diversity of a government workforce is a good thing and should be celebrated not denigrated, particularly for agencies such as the Department of the Interior, whose workforce should represent the broad geographic diversity of the people it serves.”
Last week, Interior Department sources told CNN that Zinke doesn’t believe diversity is important; instead, he opts for the same talking points used by those who oppose programs like affirmative action and believe that diversity is somehow synonymous with a decline in quality:
Three high-ranking Interior officials from three different divisions said that Zinke has made several comments with a similar theme, saying “diversity isn’t important,” or “I don’t care about diversity,” or “I don’t really think that’s important anymore.”
Each time, Zinke followed with something along the lines of, “what’s important is having the right person for the right job,” or “I care about excellence, and I’m going to get the best people, and you’ll find we have the most diverse group anyone’s ever had,” the sources said.
Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift denies the discrimination claims, making sure to point out that Zinke has hired “two women and an African-American.”
“As a woman who has worked for him for a number of years in senior positions, I say without a doubt this claim is untrue, and I am hopeful that they are a result of a misunderstanding and not a deliberate mistruth,” said Swift, in a statement that might have been worth noting if the concern here was gender-based discrimination.
If Zinke was hoping to quietly turn the Interior into a safe space for white people who want to turn tribal lands into oil refineries.... well, it’s not so quiet anymore.