Joel Clement’s previous job: Director of the Office of Policy Analysis at the U.S. Department of the Interior, where he focused on helping endangered Native communities in Alaska prepare for and adapt to climate change.
His current job, as of June 15 when he was involuntarily reassigned: Collecting royalty checks from fossil fuel companies as a senior advisor at the Office of Natural Resources Revenue.
On Wednesday (July 19), Clement filed a complaint and a whistleblower disclosure form with the Office of Special Counsel, an independent investigative and prosecutorial agency for federal employees. That same day, The Washington Post published an op-ed by him titled, “I’m a Scientist. I’m Blowing the Whistle on the Trump Administration.” It begins with this disclaimer:
I am not a member of the deep state. I am not big government.
I am a scientist, a policy expert, a civil servant and a worried citizen. Reluctantly, as of today, I am also a whistleblower on an administration that chooses silence over science.
Clement writes that involuntary reassignments like the one he (and about 50 others) received were used to eliminate those whose views did not agree with the new administration’s:
I believe I was retaliated against for speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. During the months preceding my reassignment, I raised the issue with White House officials, senior Interior officials and the international community, most recently at a U.N. conference in June. 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.
On Wednesday, I filed two forms—a complaint and a disclosure of information—with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. I filed the disclosure because eliminating my role coordinating federal engagement and leaving my former position empty exacerbate the already significant threat to the health and the safety of certain Alaska Native communities. I filed the complaint because the Trump Administration clearly retaliated against me for raising awareness of this danger. Our country values the safety of our citizens, and federal employees who disclose threats to health and safety are protected from reprisal by the Whistleblower Protection Act and Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act.
Removing a civil servant from his area of expertise and putting him in a job where he’s not needed and his experience is not relevant is a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. Much more distressing, though, is what this charade means for American livelihoods. The Alaska Native villages of Kivalina, Shishmaref and Shaktoolik are perilously close to melting 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.
As Colorlines has previously reported, some Native Alaska villages are experiencing receding coastlines and facing the costly prospect of relocating further inland. Clement argues that while Alaska’s elected officials are actively fighting against the impacts of climate change, their efforts must be supported by the federal government if the state is going to, as he writes, “stave off a life-threatening situation” for Native villagers. The Trump Administration has repeatedly minimized the threat of climate change. Clement’s reason for filing the whistleblower form is a hope that it will lead the Office of Special Counsel to investigate the Interior Department’s actions:
Our country protects those who seek to inform others about dangers to American lives. The threat to these Alaska Native communities is not theoretical. This is not a policy debate. Retaliation against me for those disclosures is unlawful.
At press time, the Department of the Interior has not responded to the allegations Clement made in his article.