Ryan Zinke’s Unethical Leadership at Interior

Since his appointment, former Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s conduct in office raised questions about his management of the department and his use of taxpayer resources. From flying on government jets to potentially involving family members in official government business, it is important for the public to understand exactly what Zinke did during his tenure as secretary.

Background:

On October 2, 2017, the Interior Department’s Inspector General announced it was opening an investigation into then-Secretary Ryan Zinke following his use of government planes for taxpayer-funded travel, including a trip to his hometown. Zinke since faced upwards of 15 ethics investigations — from his role in a land deal with the chairman of Haliburton to his reassignment of appointees who have previously been critical of him. American Oversight is conducting a broader investigation into Zinke’s questionable behavior and his overall management during his time at the Department of the Interior.

On behalf of Western Values Project, American Oversight is also investigating any role that his wife, Lolita Zinke, may have played at the department. She reportedly joined her husband on official travel and had an unusually large presence at Interior, including having sent emails related to government business and having participated in government meetings.

On January 4, 2018, Zinke announced plans for drilling in more than a billion acres of U.S. coastal areas, including off the coast of Florida, which Florida Gov. Rick Scott opposed. Five days later, Zinke tweeted that Florida would no longer be included in the new plans for offshore oil and gas drilling.

Zinke stepped down from his role at Interior in January 2019, but American Oversight continues to investigate how Zinke’s time as secretary has shaped federal policy, and how his mismanagement of the Interior Department has impacted the health and safety of federal lands. Ongoing investigations include his decision to exempt Florida from the expanded offshore drilling plan; his arrangement of personal VIP tours of national parks and his exploitation of his position; whether he played a role in the hiring of White House advisers with histories of climate change skepticism; unfounded, but serious, accusations he made against Rep. Raúl Grijalva and comments he made about the 2018 California wildfires; his awarding of a $300 million Puerto Rico electricity-restoration contract to a small Montana company; and his questionable office renovations.

What We’re Seeking:

  • Calendars and records related to Zinke’s taxpayer-funded travel, meetings, and other events, including travel to Europe with his wife, visits to or near his hometown in Montana, and a $12,375 trip to Las Vegas;
  • Communications with pesticide manufacturers and the manipulation of government studies that reveal the risk these pesticides pose to endangered species; 
  • Records relating to President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, including a federal contract awarded to Barnard Construction Company, Inc. — a company owned by a major campaign donor to Zinke;
  • Any records related to Zinke’s decision to exclude Florida from the administration’s offshore drilling plan, and how Interior determined where offshore drilling takes place;
  • Records from Zinke’s 2017 meeting with then-Halliburton Chairman David Lesar, with whom Zinke was involved in a questionable real-estate deal;
  • Records of the department’s decision to classify uranium as a “critical mineral” even though it doesn’t meet the government’s accepted definition;
  • Communications regarding private VIP tours of national park sites that Zinke and his wife arranged for their friends;
  • Communications that can shed light on whether the reassignment of a National Park Service superintendent was politically motivated;
  • Records relating to unfounded public comments made by Zinke, including that “radical environmentalists” were responsible for the devastation caused by the 2018 California wildfires and accusations against Rep. Raúl Grijalva; 
  • Records concerning the abrupt 2017 cancellation of a National Academy of Sciences study on the health effects of surface coal mining operations in central Appalachia; and 
  • Communications that shed light on whether Zinke influenced the installation of White House energy and environment advisers who have histories of climate change denial.

Updates

In the Documents: Interior Department Officials Arranging VIP Tours for Trump Administration Figures and Allies

October 31, 2019
Documents uncovered by American Oversight reveal new instances in which the line between extending courtesies to notable figures and abusing agency privileges may have been crossed.

Our Unanswered Ryan Zinke Questions

December 17, 2018
Interior Secretary Zinke may have timed his departure to avoid facing scrutiny from the next Congress, but American Oversight’s investigation isn’t going anywhere.

Statement on Ryan Zinke’s Departure from Interior Department

December 15, 2018
"For all his feigned swagger, Ryan Zinke lacked the courage or integrity to face accountability, skipping town as soon as he faced scrutiny," said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight.
Show all updates

Related Documents

August 21, 2019

FOIA to DOI Seeking Communications with Former Secretary Zinke

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
July 19, 2019

Records from DOI Regarding Ryan Zinke’s Communications and Travel

Department of the Interior
Agency Record
July 16, 2019

FOIA to the DOI Seeking Communications Regarding Border Wall Contract to Barnard Construction

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
May 9, 2019

FOIA to DOI Seeking Communications Regarding Federal Climate Change Reports

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
April 23, 2019

FOIA to DOI Seeking Records Relating to Canceled Coal Mining and Public Health Study

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
April 22, 2019

FOIA to DOI Seeking Communications with Anti-Climate White House Advisers

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
April 4, 2019

DOI Records Regarding Animal Heads Installed in Secretary Zinke’s Office

Department of the Interior
Agency Record
March 25, 2019

NPS Records Regarding Private Tours Arranged for Political Appointees

Department of the Interior, National Park Service
Agency Record
January 28, 2019

FOIA to DOI Regarding Comments on California Wildfires

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
December 19, 2018

FOIA to Interior Seeking Zinke’s Tweet about Rep. Grijalva

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
December 13, 2018

BSEE Communications Between Scott Angelle and the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, Department of the Interior
Agency Record
November 30, 2018

DOI Records Regarding Offshore Drilling and Communications with Coastal States and Outside Influences

Department of the Interior
Agency Record
November 19, 2018

FOIA to DOI Regarding VIP Tours of National Parks

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
November 19, 2018

FOIA to NPS Regarding VIP Tours of National Parks

Department of the Interior, National Park Service
FOIA Request
October 30, 2018

BOEM Records Regarding Offshore Drilling Seeking Communications with Florida and Energy Groups

Department of the Interior
Agency Record
October 30, 2018

BOEM Emails Regarding Offshore Drilling Seeking State Communications

Department of the Interior
Agency Record
October 30, 2018

FOIA to Interior Regarding Political Connections In DOI Grant Review Process

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
October 10, 2018

Complaint: American Oversight and Western Values Project v. Interior – Secretary Zinke’s Leadership

Department of the Interior
Litigation
October 4, 2018

FOIA to DOI Regarding the Endangered Species Act

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
August 24, 2018

FOIA to DOI Regarding Animal Heads for Zinke’s Office Loaned By His Friends

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
May 24, 2018

Complaint: American Oversight v. DOI – Zinke’s Offshore Drilling Plan

Department of the Interior
Litigation
April 12, 2018

DOI Calendars for Deputy Chiefs of Staff Downey Magallanes and Michael Argo and CoS Scott Hommel

Department of the Interior
Agency Record
March 9, 2018

FOIA to DOI Regarding Offshore Drilling in Light of Upcoming Elections

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
March 9, 2018

FOIA to DOI BOEM Regarding Zinke’s Offshore Plans and States Seeking Exemption

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
January 18, 2018

FOIA to DOI Regarding Offshore Drilling

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
January 18, 2018

FOIA to DOI-BOEM Regarding Offshore Drilling

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
November 16, 2017

Lola Zinke Travel Records

Department of the Interior
Agency Record
October 5, 2017

Complaint: Western Values Project v. DOI – Lola Zinke Role at Interior

Department of the Interior
Litigation
September 20, 2017

FOIA Request Regarding Video Game Installation at DOI

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
September 20, 2017

FOIA to DOI Regarding Big Buck Hunter

Department of the Interior
FOIA Request
May 17, 2017

DOI Reply Regarding Secretary Zinke’s Calendars

Department of the Interior
Agency Reply