Joel Clement has been a federal employee with the Department of Interior for nearly 7 years and was the director of the Office of Policy Analysis up until June 15, when he and several dozen other senior executives from the department received letters of their involuntary reassignment. Clement is claiming that this move was an attempt to silence him and other scientists by forcing them into jobs where they would have to quit and leave the department altogether.
Clement is a “scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen” whose job, among other things, involved studying and speaking out against climate change and its effects on Alaska Native communities. In the months proceeding the reassignment, he had spoken fervently in public fora, conversations, and emails with the White House, urging them to allow funding for their relocation and making a point of noting that climate change was to blame.
The scientist was reassigned to the accounting office of the department, despite having zero knowledge or background in accounting. Ironically, his new job entails collecting royal checks from fossil fuel companies.
“It is clear to me that the administration was so uncomfortable with this work, and my disclosures, that I was reassigned with the intent to coerce me into leaving the federal government,” Clement said in an op-ed for the Washington Post.
A few days after his reassignment, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified before Congress and said that reassignments were going to be used to “reduce staffing.” The idea is that the ridiculous reassignments will encourage executives to quit. Clement says that this is not only wholly wrong but also a colossal mismanagement of taxpayer money. With some of his colleagues being transferred elsewhere for assignments they are not a match for, on the taxpayer’s dime, all to allegedly further the agenda of the Trump Administration.
As a result, Clement filed two complaints against the department: one was for discrimination and retaliation against the information he had been disclosing about climate change and the other was about the misuse of government funds and processes.
The scientist has also pointed out that much more distressing than the current state of his job and the government is the fact that the Alaska Native communities have no allies left in government to advocate for their livelihood. The communities, namely the Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik villages, are dangerously close to washing away completely into the Arctic Ocean.
“In a region that is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, the land upon which citizens’ homes and schools stand is newly vulnerable to storms, floods and waves. As permafrost melts and protective sea ice recedes, these Alaska Native villages are one superstorm from being washed away, displacing hundreds of Americans and potentially costing lives. The members of these communities could soon become refugees in their own country,” Clement said.
This would make these indigenous people the first known refugees in the U.S., which has recently been a topic of science fiction in literature but might come true sooner than later. Though Governor Bill Walker and now famed Senator Lisa Murkowski have been raising awareness about the needs of the Alaskan people, Clement says that a fully-engaged federal government is the only thing that will work to save these people and prevent climate change’s rapid approach.
“I believe that every president, regardless of party, has the right and responsibility to implement his policies. But that is not what is happening here. Putting citizens in harm’s way isn’t the president’s right. Silencing civil servants, stifling science, squandering taxpayer money and spurning communities in the face of imminent danger have never made America great,” Clement said.
It is Clement’s hope that the Office of Special Counsel, to whom he submitted his complaints, does a full investigation into the motives of the Department of Interior’s reassignments. This scientist-turned-whistleblower refuses to be silenced any longer and is now using his voice to call attention to the issues not only within his department, but within government as a whole.