WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity and more than 55 other organizations urged President Biden today to nominate a permanent director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Today’s letter notes that a nomination is crucial because the Service has been plagued by political interference that has compromised the agency’s scientific integrity and kept it from fulfilling its mission. The Service is charged with protecting the nation’s endangered species and migratory birds.
“North America’s wildlife is in crisis, so it’s distressing that President Biden still hasn’t named a director to confront this emergency,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center. “The Fish and Wildlife Service was left rudderless for most of the Trump administration, with profoundly harmful consequences. That can’t happen again.”
The position has remained vacant since President Biden took office in January. Martha Williams, the principal deputy director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, has been exercising the delegable authority of the director during this time.
The groups’ letter states that “as the United States and the world face an unprecedented wildlife extinction crisis of staggering proportions, the Service desperately needs an accountable leader who recognizes the urgent need to reverse species extinctions and help restore the United States as a leader in conservation.”
The Service consistently ranks at the bottom of federal agencies when its scientists are asked about issues like political interference, scientific integrity and whistleblower intimidation. In 2018 nearly 70% of Service scientists noted the level of consideration of political interests as a burden to science-based decision-making, and 30% have been asked or told to omit certain politically contentious words from their scientific work products.
Under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act, or FVRA, political appointees can only serve in an acting capacity in particular Senate-confirmed offices for a period of up to 210 days, and only for a limited time after a new president is sworn in.
Once 300 days or more have passed since a position becomes vacant, the ability to appoint acting officials is severely limited, and any policies or regulations that are finalized after this point are inherently vulnerable to legal challenge.
Today’s letter notes that Williams has now been serving in an acting capacity for more than 210 days, potentially in violation of the FVRA.
“The Service needs a bold leader who will act with urgency to confront the dual crises of extinction and climate change to save life on earth,” said Hartl. “The foot-dragging approach of the last few decades has cost us precious time. Now every minute counts.”
Other organizations joining today’s letter include the Humane Society of the United States, Friends of the Earth, Animal Welfare Institute and Western Watersheds Project.