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.
— Secretary Ryan Zinke (@SecretaryZinke) January 9, 2018
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.