Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ryan Zinke reportedly told attendees of an oil and natural gas industry conference Monday that nearly one-third of DOI staff are disloyal to President Trump, and vowed to make unspecified changes to the culture of the department.
Of the 70,000 employees at the DOI, "I got 30% of the crew that's not loyal to the flag," Zinke said in a speech to the National Petroleum Council (NPC), according to reports. "We do have good people, but the direction has to be clear and you've got to hold people accountable."
The secretary also reportedly compared his department to a pirate ship that captures "a prized ship at sea [but] only the captain and the first mate row over" to finish the mission. He also complained that there are "too many ways in the present process for someone who doesn't want to get [a regulatory action] done to put it a holding pattern."
Zinke also found an opportunity to make a joke about hydraulic fracturing (fracking). "Fracking is proof that God's got a good sense of humor and he loves us," he said, according to reports.
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, has had DOI staff issues within his crosshairs for months. During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources last January, the secretary hinted that some staff could be moved from Washington, DC, to other offices in the field in order to rebuild trust between the DOI and state and local governments.
Five months later, Zinke appeared before two Senate panels to defend President Trump's proposed $11.7 budget to the DOI in fiscal year 2018, but also to say that the department was "moving prudently" to fill positions in field offices while limiting hires in DC. He deflected claims from Senate Democrats that the scale of staff changes at DOI was unprecedented.
"Push your generals where the fight is," Zinke reportedly told the NPC. Meanwhile, changes at the DOI are "going to be huge. I really can't change the culture without changing the structure."
Last July, Zinke issued a secretarial order (SO) calling for streamlined permitting of Applications to Permit to Drill (APD) on federal lands, among other things. The SO directed DOI staff to report on progress made over supporting and improving quarterly lease sales held by the DOI's Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The oil and gas industry has grumbled about both issues for years and sued over the latter in August 2016. The BLM said there was a backlog of more than 2,800 APDs at the end of January.
"The president wants it yesterday," Zinke reportedly said, in reference to faster processing of the APDs. "We have to do it by the law."