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 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.
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.