New Grants Process Adopted by DOI

Silencing Science Tracker

New Grants Process Adopted by DOI

On December 28, 2017, the Department of the Interior (DOI) issued a directive to staff, outlining a new screening process for the issuance of discretionary grants to outside groups. The directive, issued by DOI’s Principal Deputy Assistant Director for Policy, Management and Budget Scott J. Cameron, requires staff to ensure that grants “promote the priorities” of the Trump Administration. Staff are also required to have certain grants reviewed and approved by a Senior Adviser to the Assistant Director for Policy, Management and Budget. These include any award of at least $50,000 “to a non-profit organization that can legally engage in advocacy” or “to an institution of higher education.”

UpdateOn June 13, 2018, 12 Senate Democrats wrote to the Secretary of the Interior to express concern over the grant screening process. The Senators indicated that:

“[a]dditional bureaucratic procedures instituted by your office appear to be driving the lack of efficiency and effectiveness in carrying out DOI’s statutory responsibility. In addition to concerns about unnecessary bureaucracy and duplication, we are concerned that your installation of a high-level political appointee to personally review these individual grant and cooperative agreement decisions weakens confidence in the integrity of the DOI review process and at the very least,creates the appearance of improper political interference in program decisions that should always be merit-based.”

The Senators requested that DOI provide information on its grant review process by June 29, 2018. The information is, according to the Senators, necessary to “understand [DOI’s] reason[s] for instituting this level of political review of grants and cooperative agreements.”

On August 17, 2018, the Guardian reported that DOI’s grant screening process has caused delays in the approval of funding for climate change research. According to the report, the delays have affected DOI’s Climate Adaptation Science Centers, preventing them from hiring staff. The head of one center stated that, “due to the funding delays, she “did not encourage scientists at her center to recruit new students and postdocs, and . . . didn’t bring on any new students for her own group.”

The Guardian report indicates that the screening process is being overseen by Steve Howke, a high school friend of Secretary Zinke, who has no experience with scientific research. The report states:

“Howke’s highest degree is a bachelor’s in business administration. Until Zinke appointed him as an interior department senior adviser to the acting assistant secretary of policy, management and budget, Howke had spent his entire career working in credit unions.”


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