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New DOI Policy steers grants to Administration priorities

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In May 2017, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke took action that delayed the issuance of of all planned FY 2017 grants and cooperative agreements in the amount of $100,000 or more.


Now, as reported by the Washington Post, the Department of the Interior has issued a new policy that steers all grants to 10 priorities of the Administration.


The policy instructs staff to ensure that awards to outside groups  “promote the priorities” of the Trump administration. This politicization of grants follows that now in place at the Environmental Protection Agency, which has  instituted a system requiring that a political appointee in the public affairs office sign off on each grant before it is awarded.


Scott J. Cameron, Interior’s principal deputy assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, instructed other assistant secretaries and bureau and office heads to submit most grants and cooperative agreements for approval by one of his aides. Those include any award of at least $50,000 “to a non-profit organization that can legally engage in advocacy” or “to an institution of higher education.”


These reviews are unrelated to the merit of the potential grant and worse, the Congress established and funded these programs for particular purposes. Re-directing them to fulfill political goals unrelated to those Congressional mandates may be illegal, according to former deputy secretary of the Interior David Hayes. He explained that under the Clinton and Obama administrations, "“... we recognized that government contract processes are complex, and that political interference would sully the integrity of contracting processes that applicants have a right to expect are governed with fairness, impartiality, and integrity as their guide.”


The policy also threatened Interior employees who fail to comply. A sentence that is bolded as well as italicized warns that employees who defy the directive will be subject to even stricter oversight as a result. “Instances circumventing the Secretarial priorities or the review process will cause greater scrutiny and will result in slowing down the approval process for all awards.”


Interior has already ordered the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to halt two studies that conflict with the administration’s goal of expanding domestic fossil fuel production.


Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources opined, "“This grant approval process looks like a backdoor way to stop funds going to legitimate scientific and environmental projects.”  He added, “Using the federal grant process to punish scientists doing important work because they disagree with that philosophy is unacceptable, and there’s good reason to think that’s what’s really happening here.”

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