Secretary Zinke’s Dog and Pony Show

The Interior secretary’s actions to date are heavy on style, but light on substance

By Jenny Rowland and Kate Kelly

In case you missed one of the dozens of tweets that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has written on the topic, today marks the first of two “Doggy Days” at the Interior Department. Employees are invited to bring their dog to work to “boost employee morale,” while employees who may be allergic or uncomfortable around dogs are encouraged to take leave.

Although some employees may indeed have a better Friday thanks to the wagging tails around the office, it’s also easy to see the action as one of many publicity stunts that Secretary Zinke has engaged in since taking over the agency.

Since day one, Secretary Zinke has done his best to fashion an image of himself as a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican.” But the buck seems to stop at the image: Zinke’s actions are often at direct odds with Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy. Zinke’s 120-day “review” of national monuments, for example, doesn’t align with the conservation principles that President Teddy Roosevelt stood for when he signed the Antiquities Act into law or acted to preserve more than 230 million acres of public lands.

The Interior Department has a vast and important mission, and is charged with solving real and complex problems. Yet Zinke’s actions to date are heavy on style and light on substance.

Just look at Zinke’s biggest accomplishments to date:

  • Rode a horse to his first day of work
  • Decorated his office with knives and taxidermy animals
  • Instituted “doggy days” at the Interior (an action that is expressly prohibited by U.S. Office of Personnel Management policy)
  • Mastered his “social media persona
  • Went home to Montana 3 times in two months, including a campaign stop for his former seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Tomorrow, Zinke will be in Montana yet again
  • Accepted a do-nothing publicity check from Trump. Trump’s $78,000 check to the National Park Service covers less than 1 percent of what Trump’s budget proposed to cut from the department

By highlighting showy, feel good moments, perhaps Zinke hopes Americans won’t notice that he and his team are working behind the scenes to roll back commonsense standards for energy development designed to protect public lands, water, and communities. Zinke’s closed-door review is sweeping, with the intent of undoing any rules that would “potentially burden the development or utilization” of oil, gas, and coal. Although these rules were developed in a transparent manner with decades’ worth of public input, to date, the Department has made no additional information about the review available to the public.

The Department of the Interior has pressing, complex problems to solve that impact taxpayers, Native American tribes, and every American who loves their national parks, forests, monuments, and other public lands.

Instead of focusing on his literal dog and pony show, Zinke should spend more time:

There aren’t enough Doggy Days in a calendar year that could provide enough of a morale boost to make up for Trump’s proposed 12 percent budget cut to the Department. Hopefully, Zinke will spend some time addressing the complex issues facing the Department. Otherwise, he may risk being accused of being ‘all hat and no cattle.’

Correction (5/5/17): This post has been updated to reflect that Secretary Zinke has honored tribal requests for a meeting.

Jenny Rowland (@jennyhrowland) is the Research and Advocacy Manager for public lands at the Center for American Progress. Kate Kelly (@kpkellydc) is the Director of public lands at the Center.