Somebody is having trouble with the deep state, and this time it’s not President Trump. Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy (R) is asking the president for help tackling what he views as entrenched workers in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (yes… I’m serious) who have been working to thwart oil and gas leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Bet you didn’t see that one coming. (Government Executive)
A governor is asking the president to intervene with career federal employees, accusing them of “undermining” the sale of lands that would benefit his state.
In a letter to President Trump dated March 1, first made public by the Anchorage Daily News, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, R-Alaska, requesting relief from an array of activities various federal agencies are engaged in through his state. The appeals included many standard state-level concerns, such as more Medicaid funding and exemptions from forestry rules. In one case, however, Dunleavy castigated “career federal employees” he said were intentionally sabotaging efforts to sell off parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.
“U.S. Fish and Wildlife career employees undermined seismic work this winter, so the sale will occur without valuable data, likely lowering the bids,” Dunleavy wrote. “These same U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees are working to undermine the lease sale.”
The bottom line here is that the ANWR leasing arrangement was part of the 2017 tax bill that President Trump signed. But you don’t just kick off a process like that overnight. In order for the states or the federal government to get top dollar for such leases, a number of studies have to be performed. Core samples are extracted and analyzed, and as with this case, seismic information is gathered. All of this allows energy companies to better understand the makeup of the terrain and predict how much oil and gas might be found there. The more solid (and positive) the data, the more they will be likely to bid for the lease.
In Alaska, some of those tasks fall to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But nearly two years after the measure was approved, the studies have still not been completed and signed off on. That means that some of the leases either won’t happen or will bring in less money than they should. So is this the deep state in action?
You can shout about paranoia all you like, but Dunleavy (and Trump) have some valid concerns in this regard. Back in 2017, Politico’s Michael Crowley was already talking about the reality of the deep state, though he obviously saw it as more of a conservative, military industrial complex issue. He wrote, “There really is a kind of cabal that operates independently of elected officials in Washington—even if it’s not quite what Trump or his conservative allies think it is.”
There’s no reason that the Fish and Wildlife Service should be immune to this phenomenon. Any large government organization is composed of an army of people who largely stay in that department for much of their careers and they don’t get replaced every time a new administration comes into power. How the organization evolves in its earliest days will largely determine what its deep state attributes look like. Those who rise to middle and senior management positions will no doubt lean toward hiring and promoting new talent with a similar world view. And those new arrivals will, in turn, do the same thing when they advance. Over a sufficient period of years, you find yourself with an entrenched culture that is very resistant to change.
If the agency has a liberal tilt when a new conservative director is appointed by the next president, they can either lie low or perhaps even take quiet actions to thwart (or at least slow down) new policies of the incoming leadership. And if they wait long enough, another president from the other party will be elected sooner or later and they can return to business as usual. When you consider these patterns in hiring and retention and the sort of people who would likely be attracted to the Fish and Wildlife Service (environmentalists), are Governor Dunleavy’s accusations really all that shocking?