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Zinke’s Purge at Interior

Montanans with good memories may recall that Gov. Marc Racicot decided to reorganize state agencies in the mid-’90s. A popular book at the time was titled “Reinventing Government” and its premise was that doing so would make government “more effective and efficient.”

Now, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke wants to do the same thing for the 70,000 employees and numerous agencies under the direction of the Department of Interior.

But the Racicot executive agency reorganization did not make government more “effective and efficient,” as evidenced by the ballooning state budget since then. Nor is it likely to happen with Zinke’s plan. There is, however, one benefit of reorganizing executive agencies — it eliminates any standard by which effectiveness or efficiency can be judged since, once reorganized, the agencies have no structural past by which they can be measured. Or as those who favor such tactics often say, “it’s comparing apples and oranges.”

Given the level of absolute disorganization in the Trump administration, and the lack of ability of the president himself to understand the complexities of government, reorganizing the Department of Interior will provide a very handy distraction to Zinke’s real goal — which is to largely dismantle the agencies, drive out career employees, and hand over what’s left of America’s dwindling natural resources and public lands to extractive industries.

While Zinke has put forth only a very preliminary outline of what he thinks needs done at Interior, at least some of it might be considered rather inane. For instance, under his rudimentary announcement, he plans on splitting administration of the Bob Marshall Wilderness right down the middle. Mind you, this is one of the largest contiguous wilderness areas in the nation and why someone would want to split its management into two separate administrative districts is tough to imagine.

Certainly splitting The Bob would hardly lead to “more efficient and effective” governance. It would more likely do just the opposite. Nor would it likely be any cheaper for taxpayers. Anyone who thinks moving government agencies thousands of miles, leasing or constructing new buildings, and paying for employees’ moving costs is going to wind up with budgetary savings will likely have a rude awakening when those costs hit the congressional budget committees.

But more troubling than the likely inefficiencies are Zinke’s already very apparent goals. In a partial recap, he has decimated and shrunk national monuments that contain irreplaceable archaeological treasures while opening the coasts to off-shore oil drilling. Apparently Zinke has forgotten about the Deep Horizon disaster — although the residents and wildlife of the Gulf certainly have not. He just OK’d a road through the middle of the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, and of course intends to open as many public lands as possible to more resource extraction by mining, logging, and oil and gas drilling corporations.

As the Washington Post reported; “Trump has not submitted nominees to direct the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the U.S. Geological Survey. He has also not picked someone to be assistant secretary of Interior for fish, wildlife and parks.” What that illustrates is that these people simply do not know how to govern — not surprising considering their goal is destroying government.

Zinke has already complained that “only 30 percent of Interior employees are loyal to the flag.” What his phony reorganization will do is provide a handy way to purge dissenting employees, thus ensuring that America’s public lands and resources will be handed over to corporate exploiters as “efficiently and effectively” as possible.

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George Ochenski is a columnist for the Missoulian, where this essay originally appeared.

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