PPT Forces Greater Transparency by the U.S. Department of the Interior

PPT Forces Greater Transparency by the U.S. Department of the Interior

  • December 28, 2021

Agency releases more of Secretary Haaland’s schedule to the public after watchdog’s lawsuit

Today, federal watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust (PPT) announced that, after the group filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior, the agency finally and without fanfare released to the public, on its website, long-withheld documents PPT sought in its litigation.  

In recent weeks, the Department quietly added information from Secretary Deb Haaland’s calendar to its webpage containing the calendars for her predecessors. Initially, DOI released her calendar for the month of August, skipping a bloc of time representing, at the time, about half of her term. Then, weeks later, the Department filled in information for the missing four months. In September PPT sued Interior seeking documents responsive to a May FOIA request regarding the schedule and meetings of Secretary Haaland.

Breaking with a precedent in place during the Trump and Obama Administrations, until recently the Department had posted just over two weeks of calendar and meeting documents for Secretary Haaland. Seeking to remedy this secrecy, PPT submitted its May FOIA and then, after being ignored by DOI, filed suit. Interior’s lack of transparency also prompted a response from members of both Houses of Congress.

An investigation by Protect the Public’s Trust revealed that during a webinar with the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) in July, Interior’s Director of Communications, Melissa Schwartz, declared that political appointees on the Department’s communications team took down an earlier version of the Secretary’s calendar months before for what she claimed to be aesthetic reasons. While Haaland served in Congress as a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, her colleagues criticized Interior’s online calendars they believed were delayed or provided insufficient detail.

“Ensuring transparency is essential to restoring the American public’s trust in its government,” said Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust. “While we’re certainly pleased that Protect the Public’s Trust’s work appears to have prodded Interior into becoming more transparent, the sad reality is that it should not have taken that. This is yet another instance in which the Biden Administration’s promises to be the most ethical and transparent in history are not supported by the actions of the Department of the Interior.”