The Department of the Interior has published Bernhardt’s daily calendar cards and briefing book on its website.
News reports this week that Interior staffers were preparing Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s schedule in a Google document — which was overwritten each day without being shared with the public — prompted concerns not only about transparency but also about possible violations of federal records law. Now, counsel for the Interior Department has told American Oversight that Interior will be posting Bernhardt’s daily schedule “cards” online.
On Tuesday, two days before Bernhardt’s Senate confirmation hearing, Interior sent House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raul Grijalva thousands of documents, including, according to the Washington Post, hundreds of versions of Bernhardt’s calendars. The next day, the Post reported that Bernhardt’s non-public calendars were being prepared on a Google document that is erased at the end of each day.
For the past year, American Oversight has been engaged in ongoing Freedom of Information Act litigation seeking Interior officials’ calendars. After the Post’s Wednesday report, we sought answers for why these records regarding Bernhardt’s Google document schedules were not made available.
Under both federal law and Interior Department-specific regulations, a secretary’s daily schedules are “permanent records” that must be retained and turned over to the National Archives so that the American people have a full accounting of what the secretary does and who they meet with.
The value of a secretary’s calendars is particularly apparent in Bernhardt’s case. Bernhardt worked for years as a lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry and others — the very same companies he now regulates. He reportedly has so many potential conflicts of interest that he carries a card in his wallet to keep track of them all. When he was first nominated in 2017, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources called on him to permanently recuse himself from many corporate interests. According to Bernhardt’s ethics paperwork, which we obtained, he declined to recuse himself. Beyond his ethical obligations to recuse, his legal obligations to do so began lapsing within a year of him taking office.
These are not idle concerns. As secretary, Bernhardt could do much to help his former clients, from approving new drilling projects for oil and gas on federal land to weakening protections for certain lands and animals, and more. Indeed, four months after joining the department in 2017, he directed an agency official to weaken protections for certain species of fish in the mid-Pacific region so as to free up water for agriculture — directly benefiting one of his former clients.
Bernhardt’s daily calendars could also shed light on open and ongoing investigations into Zinke multiple ethics scandals, the degree to which the department has been captured by regulated industry, and other issues of major public interest. At minimum, the American people have a right to know with whom Bernhardt is meeting so they can confirm he is working not for his former clients, but for the public.