Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt’s series of efforts to evade Senate confirmation for the National Park Service’s (NPS) top official Margaret Everson requires her prompt removal, according to an expedited motion filed in a DC District Court lawsuit yesterday by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and Western Watersheds Project (WWP).
Bernhardt has designated Everson to exercise the authority of the Director of the NPS. PEER and WWP assert that Everson’s designation violates the Federal Vacancies Reform Act because the NPS Director is a position requiring “advice and consent” of the U.S. Senate under the Constitution, and now it may only be filled on a temporary basis by a qualified official appointed directly by the President, not Secretary Bernhardt. President Trump has refused to put forth a nominee for NPS Director to the Senate or to appoint an “acting Director,” which only he can do under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.
Everson’s appointment follows a series of other unconfirmed lower-level officials put in the NPS job during this Administration. This will be the first presidential term since the Service was created in 1917, in which it will have no actual Director. Everson has never even worked in the NPS before – and she still doesn’t. She claims to exercise the Director’s power while also keeping her “day job” as Counselor to the Secretary.
The Trump Administration just lost a similar legal challenge on September 25th when the Chief Judge of the Montana District Court directly ousted William Pendley from his de facto Director position atop the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). PEER and WWP also had sued to oust Pendley but they are deferring to the Montana ruling unless it changes.
“Margaret Everson is the latest in a carousel of illegal appointees to be shuffled through the Department of the Interior,” stated Tim Whitehouse, Executive Director of PEER. “We are asking the Federal court to stand up to Secretary Bernhardt’s self-serving word games and show Everson the door.”
“We’re gratified with William Pendley’s removal, but the Trump Administration has been engaging in a pattern of illegal appointments as a means to dodge the transparency and accountability of the Senate confirmation process,” added Erik Molvar, Executive Director of WWP. “It is critical that appointees are able to pass the test of Senate scrutiny before they are put in charge of important federal agencies.”
The Federal Vacancies Reform Act holds that actions taken by noncompliant officials are “without force or effect” and may not later be ratified. On that basis, in addition to the Montana Court tossing Mr. Pendley entirely out of his “Director’s chair,” federal courts in Washington, DC, and Maryland have recently invalidated actions by “acting” DHS Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli and “acting” DHS Secretary Chad Wolf. The District Court that ruled Pendley’s tenure at BLM is illegal is now trying to identify all of his actions that will be invalidated. A similar ruling involving Everson could nullify all actions she has taken during her short tenure at NPS and block her from further decision-making. The net result is that many actions taken by these unconfirmed appointees are null and void.
The NPS Director has broad powers. He or she is responsible for protecting and preserving 85 million acres consisting of the beloved “crown jewels” of the public lands system, with 420 separate Park System units occurring in every state.
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