Democrats say Interior boss withheld key facts

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FILE--In this Feb. 9, 2018, file photo,U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks during an conservation announcement at the Western Conservation and Hunting Expo Friday in Salt Lake City. On Monday, Feb. 12, 2018, the Interior Department released budget documents showing Zinke plans to press ahead with a massive overhaul of his department, including a plan to relocate some officials from Washington to the West and creating a new organizational map that mostly ignores state boundaries. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, file)

DENVER (AP) — Two Democratic congressmen accused Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Wednesday of withholding key information from lawmakers while launching a massive overhaul of his department.

Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona and Donald McEachin of Virginia sent Zinke a letter demanding he freeze the reorganization until he provides more information to Congress, which has the final say over the plan.

The letter accuses Zinke of trying to implement the plan piecemeal “to avoid full scrutiny by Congress.” It says Zinke promised to provide details in budget documents released Monday but did not.

“Those assurances were not honored,” the letter says.

Zinke’s spokeswoman, Heather Swift, said the department does not yet have a final reorganization plan.

“The congressmen are mistaken,” she said.

Swift also said Jim Cason, the department’s associate deputy secretary, briefed Republican and Democratic congressional staff members on the plan in January.

The reorganization could have widespread impacts in the West, home of most of the resources the Interior Department manages: a wealth of public lands, water, wildlife, parks, archaeological and historic sites, oil and gas, coal and grazing ranges.

Zinke, a former congressman from Montana, wants to relocate many of his department’s top decision-makers officials from Washington, D.C., to still-undisclosed cities in the West.

The draft plan, provided to The Associated Press by the Western Governors Association, reorganizes the department into 13 regions based on rivers and ecosystems instead of the current state boundaries.

Grijalva and McEachin are members of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Six Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee told Zinke last month they support the reorganization. They said it would make the Interior Department more efficient, and moving top officials to the West would make them more responsive to local concerns.

A bipartisan group of Western governors has expressed concerns that organizing the department’s 70,000 employees and their operations around natural features instead of state lines would weaken states’ influence on department decisions.

They sent Zinke their own letter Feb. 1, saying he has not consulted with them about his reorganization plan and asking him to delay it.

The budget documents released Monday included only a broad outline of the plan, requesting $17.5 million to get it started and saying the new regional boundaries would be finalized this year.

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This story has been corrected to show Rep. Raul Grijalva is from Arizona, not New Mexico.

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Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP. His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/dan%20elliott.

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