Zinke to Reorganize Interior, Focusing on ‘Front Lines’ of Public Lands

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to reorganize the Department of the Interior, emphasizing staff on public lands rather than in Washington, D.C.

“Reorganization in the past has been, ‘We’re going to strip the front line and try to reorganize and consolidate.’ That’s not the reorganization we’re going to do,” Zinke said in his first speech to department employees Friday. He told reporters afterward the department is “too short on the front lines,” pointing to “the managers, the rangers.”

Zinke did not elaborate on details, but said experts would review ways to “make decisions that are locally driven.” He said employee surveys show those who work outside of Washington, D.C. are less satisfied because they don’t feel they have enough authority.

In addition to previewing his reorganization efforts, Zinke said he would “ask the president for the whole enchilada” when Congress starts work on an infrastructure package.

Zinke also said the administration would not sell federal lands, repeating an unequivocal promise he made during his confirmation process.

“I grew up in Montana right next to Glacier Park, and I can tell you, you can hear from my lips, we will not sell or transfer public lands,” Zinke said in his speech.

Zinke’s stance conflicts with that of some conservatives who want the federal government to transfer ownership of federal lands to states. But he has supported measures shifting management responsibility to states, despite opposing the actual transfer of the lands.

Zinke also has criticized former President Barack Obama for his last-minute environmental regulations, and said during his confirmation hearing he would support at least some fossil fuel production on federal lands.

When asked about Obama’s indefinite ban on offshore drilling in large swaths of the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, Zinke told reporters he would “review everything that didn’t go through Congress.”

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