PEER Advice to Pres. Obama: How to Do Right by the Environment

I am posting this letter from PEER, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, because it has some good suggestions for the Obama team about how to deal with the fact that Bush/Cheney left layers of bureaucrats in place when they left office. So far, Obama has not been doing the things PEER suggests, one example being the installation of Mike Pool as the acting national director of BLM. These people who did the bidding of Bush/Cheney are now filling the ranks of the new administration at the higher echelons. Others, like Ron Huntsinger, who was moved out of Bakersfield due to controversy over his role in the suicide of Marlene Braun, wound up in sinecures in created positions. Huntsinger, for example, who has no advanced degrees and who conducts no scientific research of his own, is BLM’s national science coordinator and has even testified to Congress about global warming.

As Obama appointees begin to assume office, they will find themselves atop huge bureaucracies with management cadres shaped by years of Bush-Cheney promotional policies. Some of the agencies (such as Interior’s Office of the Solicitor) even have several top civil service positions laden with “burrowed-in” political appointees.

Virtually every resource agency, however, has a hardpan of mid- to upper-level managers who were selected precisely because they would toe a pro-industry line. And because these are civil servants, they cannot be replaced en masse.

In order to transform resource agencies to bring about “the change we need”, the Obama teams should –


Follow the lawsuits. When a federal agency has been successfully sued for violating the laws they were created to uphold, that is a sure sign that something is rotten. Identifying the officials responsible for making illegal decisions and holding them to account is an excellent first step. A classic example of rogue management that needs to be cleaned out is the water program in EPA’s Southeastern Region. Issuing a new policy that managers who make decisions found to violate the law will suffer negative career consequences (instead of being promoted) would be both salutary and refreshing;

Make An Example. Transferring one management holdover due to dysfunctional actions can have an echoing effect. For example, loudly removing the notorious head of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Species would cause scientists all over the agency to pop champagne corks; and

Hire a Whistleblower. Each new agency head should look at the whistleblower retaliation suits and pick a displaced reformer, settle the suit and restore the former whistleblower to a position with authority to fix the problem for which s/he was willing to risk his or her career.

Any one or combination of these actions would create transformational results almost instantly. Then, as the shampoo bottle advises, rinse and repeat.


Jeff Ruch
Executive Director

The Bush/Cheney years also left us with a myriad of problems that don’t have easy solutions. Obama’s Cap’n’Trade Program can’t stand alone as an energy solution. With years of scientific research having been ignored, suppressed, or not accomplished at all, federal environmental and land management agencies are going to need to do a lot to catch up. Many civil servants who tried to stand up to the previous administration were ousted. Some of these people might still be tapped for positions in the new administration, if they survived.


One Response

  1. Just dropping by.Btw, you website have great content!

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