The Political Hack in Charge of Dept. of Interior Science

Steven Howke, Manager of Montana Credit Union

Steven Howke, Manager of Montana Credit Union

How bad is the politics getting at Secretary’s Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department?

So bad that a faceless political appointee, a non-scientist, is in charge of deciding what grants get awarded and what don’t. His name is Steven Howke. He’s a school classmate of Zinke, also from Whitefish, Montana. Before joining the Department of Interior, he ran a credit union in Montana. According to Yahoo, “He does not have any apparent familiarity with the workings of the federal apparatus, nor any known experience that would qualify him for the complex processes of tending to the nation’s lands and natural resources.”

As Jayson O’Neill of the Western Values Project, a Montana-based watchdog organization, said,

Grants are now being reviewed by someone getting paid over $131,000 per year, who has no previous experience or qualifications for reviewing government grants that often involve complex scientific research, among other important research that deals with our public lands and wildlife. It appears that it’s purely political in nature with the intent of delaying, limiting and/or restricting grant funds to those not in favor with the administration or conducting research contrary to the corporate special interests that brought them into office.

Understand: Congress has directed that these grants be made. DOI is in charge of making them, not deciding if they should be made. Yet  Steven Howke reports to work every day, and at a princely $69 an hour uses his ignorance and his boss’s politics to decide whether Congress’s will is implemented. Or to not get around to making a decision. Millions of dollars in grants are locked up.

WC notes here that Mrs. WC is a contractor for the Institute for Applied Ecology. She supervises prisoners in eastern Oregon and Idaho who grow thousands of sagebrush and bitterbrush seedlings. Those seedlings are then planted in fire-ravaged wildlands in an attempt to defeat the invasive cheat grass. Federal funds make it possible. It’s a win-win deal, something even Republicans should love: inmates do something useful, Great Basin grazing lands are kept intact and you might even avoid having some judge classify the Greater Sage Grouse as an endangered species.

But Steven Howke hasn’t gotten around to deciding if the Congressionally-mandated grants meet Secretary Zinke’s ten priorities, so the grants are in limbo and the Institute of Applied Ecology is scrambling to keep the program going.

Senators Duckworth, Hirono,  Feinstein  Harris of California, Sanders, Durbin, Hassan, Wyden, Merkley, Baldwin of Wisconsin, Stabenow and Schatz have co-signed a letter to Secretary Zinke asking what the Hell is going on. They haven’t had any response. Neither Howke nor Scott Cameron, another Zinke flunkie and the author of the memorandum that started this, have responded to inquiries from media.

Some readers may recall President George W. Bush – more likely Vice President Cheney – hijacked climate science in the last years of the Bush Administration. Trump and Bush have gone further, hijacking the entire $1.5 billion grants program of the Department of the Interior.

Dante reserved the Fifth Pit in the 8th Circle of Hell for false counsellors, where they are immersed in a lake of boiling pitch. They are guarded by demons called the Malebranche (“Evil Claws”), who tear them to pieces with claws and grappling hooks if they catch them above the surface of the pitch.

Seems about right. Something for Steven Howke to look forward to.