In the normal course of political transitions, appointees of the former administration know they may be replaced by people more amenable to the new administration’s positions.
Some are thanked in a formal ceremony ending with a personal handshake. Others receive a formal letter thanking them for their work on behalf of the American people. Usually, though, they’re not ghosted until they quit in frustration.
That’s what Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has done to the National Park System Advisory Board. Over the past year, he refused to meet with board members, take their calls or convene the required two meetings per year. In mid-January, 10 of 12 members of the board resigned.
They had, they said, been frozen out.
The problem seems to be twofold. The entire Trump administration, from top to bottom, has been slow to get up to speed. The president and his top officials demonstrate little trust in anyone who served past administrations, but replacing them has not been a priority. The results have included a record number of vacancies without even a nomination, and also a high number of bodies, like the National Park System Advisory Board, that are technically in place but not functioning.
The more worrisome problem is that this administration has little interest in being advised or in modifying its decisions once advice has been received.
Last year, Zinke halted committee work while those bodies were under review; some emerged from the process considerably changed, and others, like this one, still languish.
The Southwest Resource Advisory Council for the Bureau of Land Management, which serves this area, also is in limbo. These groups are essential in conveying to Washington just what’s happening out on the landscape.
The parks board wasn’t an Obama innovation; it was instituted in 1935 and has traditionally included scientists and elected officials from both major parties.
We strongly urge Trump and Zinke to continue that practice. We also urge them to show greater respect both for advisers and for the American people, who may not be part of the president’s base or be able to catch his attention with large donations, but who are owners and users of the nation’s public lands. Strong, broad-based advisory groups that include scientist and citizen input are our best hope for sharing public lands without destroying them.
This administration no longer even maintains the pretense of balancing commercial interests with other uses, and as a result, Americans are losing part of what makes our nation great.
Treating people respectfully is a long-held American value that should not be abandoned by any presidential administration. Zinke owes apologies to many people who have worked hard to protect the lands Americans love.
To all Americans, he owes the reinstatement of the system in which public input was an esteemed resource rather than an annoyance to be summarily dismissed.