Government Scientist Blows Whistle On Trump Administration Then Resigns In Fiery Letter

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The Trump administration is not exactly known for its high regard for science – or facts in general. Now, the White House has lost itself yet another scientific advisor.

Joel Clement, a government scientist and policy expert, has called quits on his career at the Department of Interior (DOI) so that he can "join with the majority of  Americans who understand what’s at stake." In his letter of resignation to Ryan Zinke, US Secretary of the Interior and his boss, Clement condemns the White House's agenda, which he says "undermines the DOI mission and betrays the American people."

Before joining the department in 2010, Clement worked in climate adaptation for a Seattle-based conservation group called Wilburforce Foundation. Part of his job in the DOI has been to study the effects of climate change in Alaskan native communities. In June, he was removed from his post as the top climate policy expert and reassigned to an accounting office where he was responsible for collecting royalties from fossil fuel companies. It was part of a major reshuffle within the department, displacing dozens of senior officials and placing them in jobs they had no expertise or experience in. 

In an op-ed in the Washington Post, Clement turned government whistleblower, accused Zinke of reassigning him involuntarily for his role in publicizing and warning against the effects of climate change. He argued that Zinke organized the reshuffle, hoping it would encourage scientists to quit the department.

"A few days after my reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress that the department would use reassignments as part of its effort to eliminate employees; the only reasonable inference from that testimony is that he expects people to quit in response to undesirable transfers," he wrote.

But Clement decided to stay. As he explained in an interview with the Portland Herald Press, it was only after hearing Zinke's comments to a group of oil and gas executives on September 25 that he changed his mind.

“I realized at that point that he isn’t there to work with the career staff to advance the agency and its mission, he’s there to reverse everything they can from the Obama years and shrink the government, and it’s profoundly wrong,” he explained.

In his resignation letter, he explains his decision to leave in more detail – and he had some harsh words for Zinke. 

First, he cites poor leadership. “You and President Trump have waged an all-out assault on the civil service by muzzling scientists and policy experts like myself," he said. "[Y]ou have played fast and loose with government regulations to score points with your base at the expense of American health and safety."

Then, he talks about the department reorganization and the waste of taxpayer money it would have involved. “[R]eassigning and training me as an auditor when I have no background in that field will involve an exorbitant amount of time and effort on the part of my colleagues, incur significant taxpayer expense, and create a situation in which these talented specialists are being led by someone without experience in their field," he continued.

He also highlights the administration's point-blank refusal to even acknowledge climate change. "It is well known that you, Deputy Secretary David Berhardt, and President Trump are shackled to special interests such as oil, gas, and mining," he said. "You are unwilling to lead on climate change, and cannot be trusted with our nation’s natural resources.”

Finally, he calls on Zinke to resign.

"You have not silenced me; I will continue to be an outspoken advocate for action, and my voice will be part of the American chorus calling for your resignation so that someone loyal to the interests of all Americans, not just special interests, can take your job.”

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