Zinke and Bison and Bears (Oh My)

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke may not have ordered a $31,000 dining set or installed a $43,000 single-use phone booth, but that hasn’t stopped him from spending taxpayer dollars on his own extravagant office upgrades.

According to emails obtained by American Oversight, Zinke and his senior aides arranged for various taxidermied animals, including a bison, elk, grizzly, and moose, to be installed in their offices at taxpayer expense.

Animal Heads for Zinke’s Office:

One email sent by staffers in Zinke’s office discussed the logistics for a large stuffed grizzly bear that was scheduled to arrive and needed to be brought to the Secretary’s office, with directions for where Zinke wanted it placed.

There was also email conversation about receiving a mounted bison and elk heads to hang in Zinke’s office, including a note that the Secretary “wants it done now,” despite difficulties in logistics. It appears that it took several members of Zinke’s staff and multiple teams to accommodate this request.

Emails also indicated that the bison and elk heads were loaned by “personal friends of the Secretary from Montana.” Given previous questions about ties between Zinke and other personal contacts from Montana, including the small company that received the $300 million dollar contract to restore power in Puerto Rico, American Oversight is following-up with new FOIAs to find out more about the source of these loans.

Extra Steps Required:

Even though his staff suggested that Zinke should consider placing the heads in a cabinet rather than have them mounted on the wall, that didn’t work for him. One email shows DOI employees looking for contractor to provide options for how they can mount the heads on the wall.

Another email shows how much Secretary Zinke cared about the installation of the animal heads. The email said: “this is so important to the Secretary” and that he was willing to work around the contractor’s schedule so they could have access to his office.

Ultimately, it appears that a great deal of time and effort went into hanging the heads in Zinke’s office. Another DOI employee notes that the bison head was too heavy, requiring a team of individuals to get it to hang on the wall. There is also a note saying: “Thank you for your patience as we took these extra steps in an attempt to preserve the historic woodwork.”

Shipping a Bust from NPS:

Zinke’s staff also discussed shipping costs for a bust of President Theodore Roosevelt from a National Park Service office to the Interior Department headquarters for a cost of $864.75.

Deputy Secretary of the Interior Hanging an Elk

Secretary Zinke wasn’t the only senior DOI official to do some animal-based redecorating. Another email we uncovered showed that Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt wanted to hang a 150 pound elk head in his office. Staff noted that it would take “significant reinforcement” to accommodate the request.

While the decorating choices of Secretary Zinke and his senior staff are far from the most consequential decisions coming out of Interior, they shine a light on a pattern of behavior that we’ve seen time and again from appointees across the Trump administration.

From former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s secret phone booth to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s dining set to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s frequent vacations, Trump appointees appear to view their jobs as opportunities to collect luxury perks at taxpayer expense.