Climate change expert resigns from US government after blowing whistle

By on 11/10/2017
Joel Clement, former director of the Office of Policy Analysis, resigns after criticising the Trump administration for reassigning him (Image courtesy: pbs.org/NewsHour)

A senior civil servant who criticised the Trump administration for reassigning him from his post dealing with climate change adaptation has resigned from the service.

Joel Clement was director of the Office of Policy Analysis (OPA) at the Department of the Interior, where he examined the effects of climate change on native American communities in Alaska. In July, he was reassigned without notice to the post of senior adviser at its Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

In the new role, he was responsible for overseeing the collection of royalties from companies that drilled for oil or gas on federal land or offshore. One of dozens of senior executives who were reassigned to different jobs, he worked in the post for three months before resigning.

After he was moved, Clement wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post entitled ‘I’m a scientist. I’m blowing the whistle on the Trump administration’, in which he claimed that the administration had moved him in retaliation for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to native communities in Alaska.

Clement, who attended the University of Virginia and has a Master’s degree in forest sciences and canopy biology from Evergreen State College in Washington, was appointed as director of the OPA in January 2011. He is believed to be the highest-ranking whistle blower to resign from the federal government since President Trump took office.

“My new colleagues were as surprised as I was by the involuntary reassignment to a job title with no duties in an office that specializes in auditing and dispersing fossil fuel income,” Clement said in his resignation letter, as reported by Washington’s The Hill newspaper.

Moving him from a position for which he was qualified to one that required a new set of skills was a waste of the department’s resources, he said, adding that the department had recently sent him to Colorado for training in the new role.

“Reassigning and training me as an auditor when I have no background in that field will involve an exorbitant amount of time and effort on the part of my colleagues, incur significant taxpayer expense and create a situation in which these talented specialists are being led by someone without experience in their field,” he said.

“I choose to save them the trouble, save taxpayer dollars, and honor the organization by stepping away to find a role more suited to my skills.”

He filed a complaint in July with the US Office of Special Counsel, which is responsible for upholding the merit system in the federal civil service by protecting employees from abuse of authority, including reprisals for whistleblowing.

The interior department’s watchdog, the Office of Inspector General, is investigating whether all the reassignments of senior executives during the summer were legal. Federal officials have ordered the department to put any further such movements on hold, pending the outcome of the investigation.

As reported by CNN, a spokesperson for the interior department said: “The department does not comment on ongoing matters such as whistle blower complaints. We look forward to working with the Office of Special Counsel to address any questions they might have about this matter.”

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London, who specialises in international news. She worked on daily newspapers for 16 years, reporting extensively on both general news and education. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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