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Interior Secretary says much of his team is 'not loyal to the flag'

Political supporters are silhouetted in a large American flag on March 2, 2016. (Photo by Andrew Renneisen/Getty)
Political supporters are silhouetted in a large American flag on March 2, 2016.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke hasn't been on the job long, but he's already managed to raise his profile in ways most Interior secretaries usually don't.

In July, for example, Zinke reportedly reached out to both of Alaska's Republican senators with what Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) described at the time as a "troubling message." According to accounts, the cabinet secretary warned the lawmakers that their home state may face adverse consequences unless they vote for the health care repeal bill Donald Trump supports.

In March, Zinke also raised eyebrows when, in response to a question about the trade-offs between the economy and the environment, he replied, "We're not hurting the environment. You look at, is there such a thing as clean coal? Well, there's no such thing as clean energy."

And now it appears Donald Trump's Interior secretary has managed to make national news again.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Monday that nearly one-third of employees at his department are not loyal to him and President Donald Trump, adding that he is working to change the department's regulatory culture to be more business friendly.Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, said he knew when he took over the 70,000-employee department in March that, "I got 30 percent of the crew that's not loyal to the flag."

He reportedly made the comments "to an oil industry group."

I haven't seen the full context, but based on the Associated Press' account, Zinke reference to "the flag" was metaphorical: he was apparently talking about loyalty to the president, not the country.

Of course, that doesn't exactly make his comments sensible.

The truth is, career officials at the Department of the Interior have a responsibility to be loyal to their agency's goals and the nation's interests. That's kind of the point of having career officials: they stick around to do the job of governing no matter who's in the White House.

If Zinke is finding that a big chunk of the Interior's longtime employees is resistant to his corporate-friendly vision for the agency, then perhaps there's something wrong the vision, not the workforce.

Regardless, I can't imagine the cabinet secretary's remarks will endear him to the workers he's ostensibly leading.

Postscript: The same Associated Press article added that Zinke offered "a quirky defense" of hydraulic fracturing. "Fracking is proof that God's got a good sense of humor and he loves us," Zinke said without explanation.

I'd love to hear him elaborate on what exactly this means.