Randal Bowman has toiled 32 years at the Interior Department. A proponent of limited federal regulation, he goes underground during Democratic administrations.
But with the arrival of President Trump, the senior policy analyst has ascended like the insect that is famed for its periodic resurgence. He is helping Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke shrink national monument designations and scrutinizing whether agreements struck with politically active nonprofit groups mesh with Zinke’s priorities.
“He bides his time underground during Democratic administrations, and when Republican administrations come in, he reemerges and very aggressively works to promote their agenda,” said Don Barry, who worked with the career staffer while serving as Interior’s assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks under President Bill Clinton.
Bowman, now a special assistant to the National Park Service’s deputy director, is one of numerous civil servants throughout the government who are wielding new influence in the Trump administration after years of being out of sync with Barack Obama’s White House. While Trump has brought plenty of outsiders to the federal government, these insiders matter because, as Barry observed, “They understand the way the government works. They know where the power lies and which levers to use.”
At the Department of Homeland Security, a trio of top officials were elevated from within the ranks: Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Lee Francis Cissna; Thomas D. Homan, deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and Kevin K. McAleenan, commissioner at Customs and Border Protection. All take a law-and-order approach more reflective of Trump’s tough line on people in the country illegally.
That “three career guys” are now in key immigration posts shows the administration is “setting our agencies back to factory settings, of just administering the law,” Cissna said in an interview.
Cissna drew harsh attention last month when he removed the phrase “nation of immigrants” from his organization’s mission statement — a reaction he termed “befuddling,” since he aimed to capture what the agency does and who it serves.
“I just started fresh,” he said. He added that he is like plenty of other civil servants who have found a welcome audience for their ideas in the wake of an election: “They get nowhere, then a new president comes in.”
But few backbenchers have experienced as rapid and dramatic a role reversal as Indur Goklany, who during his more than three decades working at Interior’s Office of Policy Analysis also wrote papers for several conservative think tanks and participated in their events and films.I'm starting to think that the "spoils" system of stocking the federal bureaucracy might serve the purpose accountability better. At least you can really throw the true scoundrels out.
Weeks after Trump’s inauguration, Goklany found himself within the department’s inner circle of leadership and was subsequently transferred to work in the deputy secretary’s office.
Emails released under a Freedom of Information Act request and separately obtained by The Washington Post, coupled with interviews with current and former federal officials and academics, chart the ascent of a longtime Interior analyst who established his conservative bona fides outside the department even as he feuded with colleagues within it. Climate change was a core conflict, with Goklany questioning the severity of its impacts, the extent to which humans have contributed to it and the predictions of its future course.
An electrical engineer by training, he initially suggested rewriting Interior’s main climate Web page a week after Trump took office. Three days later, he proposed wiping out the previous administration’s priorities altogether.
“I actually think removing the Priorities page is better and more efficient than just modifying certain pages because climate change is not the only questionable priority on the current Priorities page,” Goklany wrote to Doug Domenech, who now serves as Interior’s assistant secretary of insular areas.
The page went offline for a few days last March and underwent multiple changes during the year, according to the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative. It now lists Zinke’s 10 top priorities before providing links to a range of topics such as American energy, regulatory policy, tribal nations and climate change.
Myron Ebell, a senior fellow at the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute, has worked with Goklany for years in what Ebell described as his “moonlighting job as a one-man think tank.” Ebell sees his longtime ally as empowered in a way he hasn’t been since the Reagan administration.
“Obviously, they kept him in a box during the Obama administration, and now they’ve let him loose,” said Ebell, who headed Trump’s transition team at the EPA and lobbied the president to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. “He’s a national treasure, in my view. He’s a very meticulous analyst of policies, and he knows how to get behind the claims and look at the data.”