Former Interior senior executive sues agency for reassignment records

The Interior Department employee who publicly resigned after the agency reassigned him — and 30-to-50 of his other senior executive colleagues — to a new position is now suing his former employer.

Joel Clement filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia over Interior’s failure to comply with more than 30 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. He requested documents related to the agency’s decision to reassign members of Interior’s Senior Executive Service cohort, in addition to more specific records about his individual case.

The Interior FOIA office assigned docket numbers to Clement’s requests but hasn’t produced any documents, his lawsuit said.

Clement, who said he was reassigned in retaliation for his statements about climate change, filed a whistleblower complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. He resigned in October, citing poor leadership as one of the reasons for his departure.

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As the former director of the Office of Policy Analysis, Clement played a key role in the department’s response to climate change and worked specifically with coastal Alaskan communities to prepare them for impacts of major weather events. His reassignment, however, brought him to the Interior Office of Natural Resources, where he was expected to do audit work, of which he has no experience.

According to Clement’s lawsuit, the executive resources board that made the decision to reassign 30-to-50 SES at the department was made up of five Interior political appointees and no career federal employees.

As Federal News Radio previously reported, reassigned senior executives said the moves made them feel under-appreciated and demoralized.

A few members of Congress have taken interest in the reassignments and have also asked Interior for more details.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) questioned the department about the number of executives that had actually been moved, the criteria it used to choose SES for reassignment and the costs associated with the decision.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) also asked Interior for records related to the reassignments.

To date, neither Udall nor Cummings has received responses from Interior, according to Clement’s lawsuit.

In the meantime, a group of 13 lawyers and scholars in August urged the Office of Special Counsel to pay close attention to Clement’s case, which they argued gives OSC an opportunity to define and respect the legal limits of the civil service and its merit principles.

The Interior Office of Inspector General is also reviewing the methodology and the criteria agency leaders used to reassign SES members.

According to an email to Interior senior executives, which Federal News Radio obtained, the IG said it was meeting with impacted SES and others involved in the reassignment process. The IG also encouraged senior executives who haven’t come forward to contact the inspector general or its anonymous hotline by Nov. 10.