Trump Administration Has Track Record of Putting Political Appointees in Charge of Federal Grant Reviews, Illegally Terminating Grants Without Explanation
New Suit Exposes Appointment of Sec. Zinke’s Kindergarten Classmate, Steve Howke, to Lead DOI’s Grant Review Despite Absence of Experience in Public Service, Natural Resource Policy, or Public Land Management
Interior Department Now Stonewalling Details of How Its Political Appointees Select Grants for Approval or Denial
Washington, DC— Today, Democracy Forward filed suit against the Trump Administration for refusing to disclose how political appointees at the Department of Interior (DOI) determine which federal grant applications to select, accept or revoke. The suit follows the announcement of a new DOI policy of grantmaking procedures to “promote the priorities” of the Trump administration.
Last year, Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke appointed his former classmate and high school football teammate Steve Howke to oversee DOI’s new grant policy despite Howke’s lack of professional experience in public land management or natural resource policy. Howke, a contributor to Zinke’s political campaigns, is now in charge of reviewing grants related to climate change, environmental conservation and renewable energy. The Department of Interior disburses over $5 billion in federal assistance and cooperative agreements each year.
“The politicization of grant policy in this administration is totally inappropriate, and we will keep going to court to bring it out into the light of day,” said Democracy Forward Executive Director Anne Harkavy. “Ryan Zinke and Steve Howke may have attended school together, but it is abundantly clear that neither of them paid attention to the lesson on following the rules.”
Under the Trump Administration, political appointees and the federal agencies they lead have repeatedly created legal and political controversy by politicizing the federal government’s grantmaking processes. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency abruptly revoked the funding grant to the Bay Journal newspaper after a political appointee disapproved of critical coverage against the Administration’s proposed budget cuts to Chesapeake Bay restoration. Most recently, federal judges across the country ruled that Health and Human Services political appointees unlawfully yanked Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grants without any explanation.
The suit was filed August 9, 2018 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.