For Interior Secretary, diversity in department doesn’t rank as top priority

Trump cabinet member Ryan Zinke has been reportedly heard several times commenting that diversity in his department should take a back seat

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the United Sates Department of the Interior, is under fire for consistent anti-diversity remarks he’s made, and the dubious actions that have followed.

According to CNNat least three high-ranking officials at the Interior department are reporting that Zinke’s opposition to diversity is worrisome and negates the purpose of the department.

Several employees claim that they’ve heard Zinke say that diversity is something he’s not interested and will not spend his time doing.

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He’s been quoted as saying “what’s important is having the right person for the right job,” or “I care about excellence, and I’m going to get the best people, and you’ll find we have the most diverse group anyone’s ever had,” the sources said.

But the stats don’t align. One staffer told reporters that shortly after Zinke was appointed, Zinke was asked about how to improve diversity at Interior, where more than 70 percent of employees are white.

“[Zinke] flat out said, ‘I don’t really think that’s important anymore. We don’t need to focus on that anymore,’ ” said the anonymous staffer. “He obviously needed someone to provide him with better talking points,” he added.

Similarly, another group of employees have also heard Zinke repeat the same sentiment in different context. 

“I think it’s just how he speaks – he has his canned talking points,” said another, implying that he may not mean any harm by it. 

Still, an anonymous leader within the department who is also a minority feels, as many others do, that it is a major issue.

“That told me everything I needed to know,” the person said about hearing the “talking points” from the Secretary. “It’s a hard business as it is, and then not to be respected or appreciated for the diverse perspective that you bring to the situation — and that’s why it’s important in my opinion. It’s the fact that we don’t look at things the same way. When we have conversations about public lands and how they’re used, we cannot afford to have a small percentage of people making those decisions.”

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More troubling is not just the language the Secretary utilizes, but actions he took upon assignment that leads to a greater issue.

In June, CNN reported that Zinke unexpectedly reassigned 33 senior executive staffers, which caused much turmoil within the department. It has been confirmed that 15 out of those 33 reassignments were people of color. The number represents a disproportionately large amount of minority employees.

Only 28 percent out of the total 235 senior leaders are minorities in the department, which means that 40 percent of the reassignments were people of color. That’s a major red flag, given the Secretary’s comments about diversity. Many have filed complaints with the US Merit Systems Protection Board.

Additionally, many of the reassignments believe there was prejudice taken into account from racial to political. Joel Clement is a policy expert but he was reassigned to an accounting job after he “blew the whistle” on climate change in Alaska. He decided to quit and to fight the reassignment. His case is now being investigated by the Interior Department’s inspector general and Office of Special Counsel.

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