Interior Flouts 50-Year-Old Precedent in Agency Director

Interior Flouts 50-Year-Old Precedent in Agency Director

  • April 13, 2023
Political appointee’s lack of credentials under statute breaks precedent and could render law a mere suggestion

Today, Government watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust revealed records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act demonstrating that political appointees and agency lawyers at the Department of the Interior explored how to circumvent a 50-year-old statute’s plain language in order to nominate Martha Williams as the Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). As PPT noted previously, Ms. Williams’ educational background appears to lack the “scientific education” component required by statute.

President Biden nominated Ms. Williams as Director of FWS and the Senate confirmed her by voice vote in February of 2022. As a long-standing Department career official recently observed, “every confirmed Director has had biological scientific credentials; many had M.S. degrees, and one had a PhD.” In a letter to the Department, Rep. Blake Moore, then-Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Committee on Natural Resources, declared the educational requirement represented “Congressional intent from approximately 50 years ago to ensure those qualifications for the position of Director of the USFWS is clearly documented” and indicated that Ms. Williams “does not appear to satisfy the education requirement for her position.”

A Trump Administration nominee with 25 years of experience “was disqualified because he lacked the legally required scientific credentials,” according to the previously noted career official in an email. Yet Ms. Williams apparently also lacks the same credentials, having graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Philosophy and later earning a law degree. Whatever the merits of her education may be, this seemingly disqualifying lack of a “scientific degree” was clearly evident to agency lawyers and Biden political attorneys, yet Ms. Williams was nevertheless green-lighted for the post. This apparent lack of qualifications could put at risk any actions she takes, as conservationists have warned.

“For some time now, we’ve been told by the Biden Administration that 50-year-old precedents were sacrosanct,” stated Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “But it appears that decades of precedent, and clear statutory language are merely niceties to be cast aside when inconvenient for Secretary Haaland’s Department. This is hardly the return to normalcy we were promised. Do not be surprised if future administrations consider this a green light to ignore this qualification for their FWS directors.”