That is how one federal employee explained why he could not predict what would happen to the environmental program where he works in the coming months. While the impending Trump presidency shares some hallmarks of previous transitions under Reagan and George W. Bush, there are fundamental differences. So, while PEER has been to this rodeo before, we have not seen this set of crazy cowpokes.
One big difference is how capricious and changeable the Trump campaign and transition has been. One day he says human-induced climate change is a “hoax”; then, he says “I’m still open-minded. Nobody really knows.” Indeed.
Here is a good example of what we can expect. Trump’s transition “landing team” created quite a stir when it submitted a questionnaire to the Department of Energy asking for, among other things, a list of employees or contractors who “attended any Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon meetings” and any of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change meetings in the last five years. The questions sparked an immediate firestorm of concern over possible ideological purges of climate scientists.
Within days, the Trump transition walked it back, issuing an enigmatic statement that “The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol. The person who sent it has been properly counseled.” Unpacking this curious non-explanation, several things jump out:
• Who knew the Trump transition has a protocol? What is it – don’t get caught?
• Someone in the Trump camp clearly wanted to make a list but why is not explained. It is likely not a Christmas list.
• Even though Energy officials refused to supply names, come January 21st there will be no further refusals.
As this episode illustrates, inside information will be critical in the coming months. Many questionable schemes will be blown up by prematurely exposing them. When pressed, Trump shows no hesitancy about dropping stances he had declared days or even hours earlier. There appears to be no consistent philosophic underpinnings to his positions. Coupled with the fact that he is assembling a team with little federal executive branch experience, we can expect – as we have already seen – numerous stops and starts, reversals and somersaults.
Moreover, Trump appointees with agendas anathematic to the agencies they are tapped to lead are vulnerable to disastrous overreach. As the EPA scandals under Reagan illustrated, zealots without patience or propriety usually produce fiascos and scandal. Reagan had to bring in moderates to clean up the damage.
As we enter the Trump era, this is some of work PEER expects to be doing and business should be brisk. Your support is needed now more than ever.
Happy New Year & tighten your seat belt – it’s going to be a wild ride.
P.P.S. Searching for Moral Leadership. Rather than unalloyed celebration capping its centennial year, the National Park Service had a brutal 2016. One particularly distressing aspect was the series of sexual harassment scandals erupting in parks across the country. Since this summer, the Park Service has said it intended to conduct an all-employee survey as a first step. Well, it just announced that questionnaire finally will be distributed on Monday, January 9th with replies due by February 14, 2017. That means it will be up to Donald Trump to assess the situation and decide how to move forward to lessen sexual harassment in the ranks. Oy vey.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER’s environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.
Public employees are a unique force working for environmental enforcement. In the ever-changing tide of political leadership, these front-line employees stand as defenders of the public interest within their agencies and as the first line of defense against the exploitation and pollution of our environment. Their unmatched technical knowledge, long-term service and proven experiences make these professionals a credible voice for meaningful reform.
PEER works nation-wide with government scientists, land managers, environmental law enforcement agents, field specialists and other resource professionals committed to responsible management of Americas public resources. Resource employees in government agencies have unique responsibilities as stewards of the environment. PEER supports those who are courageous and idealistic enough to seek a higher standard of environmental ethics and scientific integrity within their agency. Our constituency represents one of the most crucial and viable untapped resources in the conservation movement.