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Democrats Demand Probe Over Trump’s ‘Partisan’ Questions to DOE

Democrats in both chambers of Congress said they are alarmed by a questionnaire the transition team for President-elect Donald Trump sent Department of Energy (DOE) officials earlier this month, with nine senators calling for an investigation into the matter, although the Trump team has since reportedly disavowed the document.

In a letter last Thursday, the nine senators urged the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to investigate the 74-item questionnaire, which asked DOE officials to identify any employees and contractors that have worked on climate change policies for the Obama administration, among other things.

"These requests appear to have violated long-standing federal laws designed to protect civil servants against coercion for partisan purposes," the senators, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), said in the letter. "We ask that you take immediate action to review these deeply troubling requests...Taken together, these questions seem to demonstrate a clear intent to retaliate or discriminate against federal employees."

Blumenthal and his colleagues -- Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Christopher Coons (D-DE) -- cited the Civil Service Reform Act (CSRA), a 1978 law that protects employees from coercion for partisan political purposes.

"We are alarmed by the requests in the DOE questionnaire because they strongly appear to be motivated by partisan political purposes, which are forbidden by the CSRA and are therefore impermissible actions by transition officials," the senators wrote. They asked for a response by Friday, Dec. 23.

Meanwhile, in a separate letter to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, two key Democrats in the House of Representatives called allegations surrounding the questionnaire "troubling" and asked Pence to provide, by Friday, copies of the document and any other related memos or communications between the transition team and DOE or "any other agency or department" affected by the matter.

"We are concerned that these efforts to single out particular Department employees involved in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may be an attempt to target DOE employees whose scientific views on climate change differ from those of the incoming Trump administration," wrote Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD).

"While the new administration is entitled to select political appointees who share the President-elect's views on climate change; any effort to retaliate against, undermine, demote, or marginalize civil servants on the basis of their scientific analysis would be an abuse of authority."

Pallone is the ranking member on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, while Cummings is the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The Trump transition team reportedly disavowed the questionnaire last week. "The questionnaire was not authorized or part of our standard protocol," Trump spokesman Sean Spicer said, according to reports. "The person who sent it has been properly counseled."

Western Energy Alliance President Kathleen Sgamma told NGI's Shale Daily that she didn't think the line of questioning from the Trump transition team was politically motivated. On the contrary, the questionnaire was a necessary part of making the transition at DOE.

"I don't know why asking the question, to understand what people you should talk to about these issues, is so threatening," Sgamma said. "Just wanting to know who was involved with the policies can help you determine, to understand better, all that's going on.

"We've seen this at other agencies as well. The tentacles of climate change have just filtered down all throughout agencies. If you really want to understand how these policies are being implemented, and how you can change those policies, you have to know who all is working on them, down to what department."

Sgamma also defended questions leveled against the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the agency within DOE that collects and analyzes data on energy and releases content in the form of short- and long-term energy outlook reports. EIA reporting is usually considered independent and impartial, although the agency could be a cost-cutting target.

"As far as asking good questions about bias in EIA's data, we've seen this for the entire past eight years," Sgamma said. "The Obama administration has tried to elevate certain sources of energy over others. The way you present data can reflect that bias. So I think questions along those lines are very legitimate."

Last week, Trump tapped former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who once quipped that he would dismantle the DOE if elected president, to lead the DOE. A spokesman for the DOE also said the department would not comply with the questionnaire.

"There will be people on the transition [team], and then in the administration, who need to know those details," Sgamma said. "Of course Trump doesn't need to know those details, but the people who are trying to implement his policies in the agencies certainly do need to understand how those climate change tentacles have trickled down throughout the agencies.

"Look at how some of these directives have been implemented. There are little task forces and all kinds of smaller groups set up throughout agencies. So I think it's very legitimate to ask about those types of things.”

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