David Bernhardt

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David Bernhardt
Bernhardt in 2019
53rd United States Secretary of the Interior
In office
January 2, 2019 – January 20, 2021
Acting: January 2 – April 11, 2019
PresidentDonald Trump
DeputyKatharine MacGregor
Preceded byRyan Zinke
Succeeded byDeb Haaland
7th United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior
In office
August 1, 2017 – April 11, 2019
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byMichael L. Connor
Succeeded byKatharine MacGregor
Solicitor of the United States Department of the Interior
In office
October 5, 2006 – January 20, 2009
PresidentGeorge W. Bush
Preceded bySue Ellen Wooldridge
Succeeded byHilary Tompkins
Personal details
David Longly Bernhardt

(1969-08-17) August 17, 1969 (age 54)
Rifle, Colorado, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseGena Bernhardt
EducationUniversity of Northern Colorado (BA)
George Washington

David Longly Bernhardt (born August 17, 1969) is an American lawyer who served as the 53rd United States Secretary of the Interior from 2019 to 2021 in the administration of Donald Trump. He previously was a shareholder at the Colorado law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck,[1] where he was an oil and energy industry lobbyist and natural resources attorney. He began working for the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) in 2001,[2] and served as the department's solicitor from 2006 to 2009 and deputy secretary from 2017 to 2019.[3][4]

President Donald Trump nominated Bernhardt to be the deputy secretary of the interior in April 2017.[5] He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 24, 2017,[6] and sworn into office on August 1.[7] He became acting secretary of the interior on January 2, 2019, following Ryan Zinke's resignation.[8] Bernhardt was nominated to officially become Secretary of the Interior in February 2019[9] and was confirmed on April 11, 2019.[10]

Early life and education[edit]

Bernhardt grew up in Rifle, Colorado.[3] His father was a county extension agent and his mother was in the real estate business.

Bernhardt was active in Colorado politics from the age of sixteen, when he made his case to the Rifle City Council not to levy taxes on arcade games at a teen center he was starting in his hometown.[4] He left high school early, earning his GED, then his bachelor's degree from the University of Northern Colorado in 1990.[3] While at the University of Northern Colorado, he applied for and received an internship at the Supreme Court of the United States.[4] He graduated with honors from the George Washington University Law School in 1994.[11] He was admitted to the Colorado Bar Association later that year.[12]


Early career[edit]

Bernhardt began his career as a lawyer in Colorado. In the 1990s, he worked for U.S. Representative Scott McInnis, a Grand Junction Republican.[3][13] In 1998 he became an associate with Brownstein Hyatt and Farber, a Denver law and lobbying firm.[3][11][13]

George W. Bush administration[edit]

Bernhardt worked for the Department of the Interior during George W. Bush's presidency.[14] Early in his career with the DOI, he was deputy chief of staff and counselor[3] to then-secretary of the interior Gale Norton.[2] He also served early on at the DOI as director of congressional and legislative affairs. Later he was confirmed and served as the solicitor at the DOI.[3] He was also the United States commissioner to the International Boundary Commission, U.S. and Canada.[14]

President George W. Bush nominated Bernhardt to serve as Solicitor of the Department of the Interior in November 2005, subject to Senate confirmation.[15] He was the DOI deputy solicitor at the time.[3] Bernhardt was sworn into office in November 2006,[4] after being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He served as Solicitor from 2006 to January, 2009.[5][16]

Legal work and lobbying work[edit]

In 2009, he rejoined the Colorado-based law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.[11] He became a shareholder in the firm[1] and chairman[5] of the firm's natural resources law practice.[11] Bernhardt's clients included Westlands Water District, Halliburton, Cobalt International Energy, Samson Resources, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.[17]

Through Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Berhardt represented entities such as the proposed Rosemont Copper open pit mine in Arizona.[1]

In 2011, Bernhardt filed a lawsuit for the Westlands Water District that "sought to force the feds to make good on a commitment to build a multibillion-dollar system to dispose of the poisoned water" resulting from toxic irrigation in the Westlands district.[18]

He was previously a member of the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries,[11] and chairman of its Finance, Audit, & Compliance Committee.[19] He resigned prior to January 2017.[20]

Trump administration[edit]

DOI transition team[edit]

Until the end of 2016, Bernhardt remained an attorney and lobbyist for the Westlands Water District.[18] In November 2016, he de-listed himself as a lobbyist in order to comply with the new president's ban on lobbyists joining his administration.[21] After withdrawing his formal registration as a lobbyist, Bernhardt became a consultant to the Westlands Water District for a $20,000 per month retainer.[22] While remaining a lawyer at Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck, after November 2016 Bernhardt was briefly in charge of the Interior Department transition team for President Donald Trump.[5] In that role, he was in charge of overseeing staffing in the Department of the Interior along with Devin Nunes.[21]

Until resigning by early 2017, he was on the board of the Center for Environmental Science Accuracy and Reliability.[23]

Deputy Secretary of the Interior[edit]

Deputy Secretary Bernhardt

On April 28, 2017, Trump nominated Bernhardt to be the deputy secretary of the interior.[5][14][1][24] The role made Bernhardt the "top deputy to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and COO of the federal lands and energy agency".[2] The appointment was praised by Zinke,[11][5] Republican members of Congress,[18][12] and former-interior secretary Dirk Kempthorne,[1] as well as Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable, Ducks Unlimited, and the Boone and Crocket Club.[25] His nomination was strongly opposed by conservationists,[18][1][21] fishing groups,[18][21] and California Democrats,[21] who cited his history of representing and lobbying on behalf of oil companies and agricultural interests[1] as well as conflict-of-interest concerns arising from his firm's work on regulation issues with the DOI.[5]

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in mid-May 2017,[26] Bernhardt testified that he would "apply the law and be honest with the science" at the Interior Department[25] but also said the president's views, rather than the recommendations of climate scientists, would guide the Interior Department's policies whenever possible.[26] Ethics issues were raised by Senators such as Maria Cantwell, with Bernhardt replying he took ethics very seriously. He said that unless he received authorization to do so, he would not involve himself substantially in any particular matter involving his former clients.[25]

On July 24, 2017, the Senate confirmed Bernhardt's nomination by a vote of 53–43.[27] He was then sworn into office on August 1, 2017.[7]

During Bernhardt's tenure as deputy secretary and acting secretary the Department of the Interior substantially increased fossil fuel sales on public land and embarked on a program of deregulation.[28]

In 2019, Politico reported that heads of the oil industry lobbying group Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) celebrated their ties to Bernhardt, who had IPAA as a client during his legal career.[13]

In August 2020, the Interior Department's inspector general released a report concluding that the agency had withheld sensitive public documents related to Bernhardt prior to his Senate confirmation and that this action did not violate any legal or ethical standards.[29]

Secretary of the Interior[edit]

Bernhardt as secretary of the interior and President Trump in Bakersfield, California in February 2020

On January 2, 2019, Bernhardt became acting secretary of the interior, replacing Ryan Zinke.[8] On February 4, 2019, Trump nominated Bernhardt to be Secretary of the Interior.[9] He was confirmed by the Senate on April 11, 2019, by a vote of 56 to 41.[30]

In May 2019, the House Oversight Committee investigated whether Bernhardt was complying with record-keeping laws.[31]

In September 2019, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding that Bernhardt, then acting secretary, had twice violated federal law[32] when in January 2019 he directed the National Park Service to use park entrance fees for maintenance in keeping parks open during the government shutdown.[33][34] The GAO report concluded that the Interior Department moved funds between accounts without authorization from Congress in violation of the Antideficiency Act and federal appropriations law.[32][34] The Interior Department rejected the GAO's conclusion that any laws were violated, and maintained that the directive was an "appropriate and lawful use of Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act funds."[33][34]

Bernhardt was chosen as the designated survivor during Trump's 2020 State of the Union Address.[35]

In May 2020, two activist groups sued over Bernhardt's ongoing interim appointments of William Perry Pendley to run the Bureau of Land Management and David Vela to lead the National Park Service, appointments that bypassed a Senate confirmation process.[36]

On August 4, 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump. Bernhardt announced that August 4 would be designated "Great American Outdoors Day" and that each year on that day entrance to national parks would be free.[37]

Bernhardt relocated the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colorado, on August 11, 2020.[38]

Bernhardt on August 17, 2020, announced plans for an oil and gas leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, clearing the way for drilling in the remote Alaskan area.[39]

On August 20, 2020, Bernhardt designated the site of the 1908 Springfield Race Riot for inclusion in the National Park Service's African American Civil Rights Network. It is the 30th site to achieve such a designation, which includes sites associated with the civil rights movement in the United States, such as the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama and the Pullman National Monument in Chicago.[40]

On September 11, 2020, Bernhardt introduced Trump at the Flight 93 Memorial.[41]

Post-government career[edit]

After leaving the Department of the Interior, Bernhardt rejoined his former law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Shreck as a senior counsel. He also joined the advisory board of Advancing American Freedom, a political advocacy group founded by Mike Pence.[42] Bernhardt is the chairman of the America First Policy Institute's Center for American Freedom.[43]

Personal life[edit]

He lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his wife Gena[14] and two children.[11] Bernhardt is a hunter and angler.[11][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g James, Ian (April 28, 2017). "Conservationists alarmed by Trump Interior nominee". USA Today. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "Lawyer-lobbyist for Colorado firm is Trump's pick for No. 2 Interior Department official". Denver Business Journal. May 1, 2017. Retrieved May 15, 2017.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Soraghan, Mike (November 18, 2005). "Colo. lawyer tapped for Interior post". Denverpost.com. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d Soraghan, Mike (December 4, 2006). "Interior lawyer knows Colorado". Denverpost.com. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Trump taps former Bush official for key Interior post". The Hill. April 28, 2017. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  6. ^ Paul, Jesse (July 24, 2017). "Colorado's David Bernhardt, Trump's nominee for Interior Department post, is confirmed by Senate". The Denver Post. Retrieved July 26, 2017.
  7. ^ a b Paul, Jesse (August 1, 2017). "David Bernhardt is sworn into post as deputy Interior secretary". Denverpost.com. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
  8. ^ a b Knickmeyer, Ellen; Brown, Matthew; Lemire, Jonathan (December 15, 2018). "Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke resigning, cites "vicious" attacks". Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  9. ^ a b Trump, Donald J. (February 4, 2019). "I am pleased to announce that David Bernhardt, Acting Secretary of the Interior, will be nominated as Secretary of the Interior. David has done a fantastic job from the day he arrived, and we look forward to having his nomination officially confirmed!". @realdonaldtrump. Retrieved April 4, 2019.
  10. ^ "PN503 - Nomination of David Bernhardt for Department of the Interior, 116th Congress (2019-2020)". www.congress.gov. April 11, 2019. Retrieved April 12, 2019.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Paul, Jesse (April 29, 2017). "Colorado native David Bernhardt tapped by Trump for deputy interior secretary". Denver Post. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  12. ^ a b Harmon, Gary (May 5, 2017). "Rifle man tapped for No. 2 spot at Interior". The Daily Sentinel. Archived from the original on May 6, 2017. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  13. ^ a b c Williams, Lance (March 23, 2019). "Recording Reveals Oil Industry Execs Laughing at Trump Access". Politico Magazine. Retrieved March 23, 2019.
  14. ^ a b c d e "President Donald J. Trump Announces Key Additions to his Administration". The White House. April 28, 2017. Archived from the original on April 28, 2017. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  15. ^ Pres. Nom. 1,089, 109th Cong. (2005).
  16. ^ Pres. Nom. 1,916, 109th Cong. (2006).
  17. ^ Davenport, Coral; Fandos, Nicholas (July 26, 2017). "As Interior Secretary Swaggers Through Parks, His Staff Rolls Back Regulations". The New York Times. p. A11. Retrieved July 26, 2017.
  18. ^ a b c d e Brekke, Dan (April 28, 2016). "Trump Appoints Valley Water District's Lobbyist to Interior Department Post". KQED. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  19. ^ "Agenda, August 18 2016" (PDF). Board of Game and Inland Fisheries. Retrieved March 6, 2020.
  20. ^ "Board of Game and Inland Fisheries". Virginia Department of Game & Inland Fisheries. Virginia-dot-gov. January 13, 2017. Archived from the original on January 13, 2017. Retrieved June 1, 2017.
  21. ^ a b c d e Lochhead, Carolyn (May 1, 2017). "Ex-water district lobbyist nominated for Interior Department post". SFGate. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  22. ^ "INTERIOR: Deputy nominee still advising Calif. water district - Tuesday, July 18, 2017". www.eenews.net. July 18, 2017. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
  23. ^ Boxall, Bettina (May 17, 2017). "Trump's pick for a top Interior post has sued the agency on behalf of powerful California water interests". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2017.
  24. ^ Pres. Nom. 365, 115th Cong. (2017).
  25. ^ a b c Lunney, Kellie (May 18, 2017). "Senators press interior nominee on science and climate". Science Magazine. Retrieved June 1, 2017.
  26. ^ a b Whieldon, Esther (May 18, 2017). "US Interior Department nominee: Trump 'perspective' should outweigh climate science whenever possible". Politico. Retrieved June 1, 2017.
  27. ^ Master, Cyra (July 24, 2017). "Senate confirms Trump's nominee for No. 2 Interior post". The Hill. Retrieved July 26, 2017.
  28. ^ "The New Acting Interior Secretary Is An Agency Insider And Ex-Oil Lobbyist". NPR. January 2, 2019. Retrieved January 8, 2019.
  29. ^ Knickmeyer, Ellen (August 11, 2020). "Probe: Interior held back Bernhardt records sought by court". The Columbian. Associated Press. Retrieved November 12, 2021.
  30. ^ "U.S. Senate: U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes 116th Congress - 1st Session". www.senate.gov. Retrieved November 28, 2020.
  31. ^ Lefebvre, Ben (May 7, 2019). "House Oversight Committee threatens salaries of Interior staff who block interviews". Politico. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  32. ^ a b Kurt Repanshek, GAO Rules Interior Violated Law By Shifting Funds To Keep Parks Open During Shutdown, National Parks Traveler (September 8, 2019).
  33. ^ a b Adragna, Anthony (September 5, 2019). "GAO: Trump administration violated law to keep parks open during shutdown". Politico.
  34. ^ a b c Ellen Knickmeyer; Carole Feldman (September 9, 2020). "GAO: Interior broke law in reopening parks during shutdown". Associated Press.
  35. ^ Gore, Leada (February 4, 2020). "State of the Union 2020: President Trump's designated survivor is Interior Secretary David Bernhardt". AL.com.
  36. ^ Dennis Webb (June 8, 2020). "Pendley stays on as Bureau of Land Management head". The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Retrieved June 10, 2020.
  37. ^ Rhone, Nedra (August 5, 2020). "Great American Outdoors Act Signed Into Law". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved July 1, 2020.
  38. ^ "BLM officially establishes Grand Junction as headquarters". The Times-Independent. August 14, 2020. Archived from the original on April 4, 2021. Retrieved August 15, 2020.
  39. ^ "Trump administration announces plans to drill in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge". Cable News Network. August 17, 2020. Retrieved August 17, 2020.
  40. ^ Moore, Brendon (August 20, 2020). "Race Riot Site Added to African American Civil Rights Network". State Journal Register. Retrieved August 29, 2020.
  41. ^ Minemyer, Chip (September 11, 2020). "Flight 93 Remembered "They saved our capitol": Trump Salutes heroes of Flight 93 on 9/11 anniversary". The Tribune-Democrat. Retrieved September 13, 2020.
  42. ^ Frazin, Rachel (May 3, 2021). "Ex-Trump Interior, EPA leaders find new posts". msn.com. Archived from the original on May 3, 2021. Retrieved May 15, 2021.
  43. ^ Cama, Robin Bravender, Timothy (September 7, 2022). "Trump's Cabinet-in-exile preps 2024 energy playbook". E&E News. Retrieved October 15, 2022.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

External links[edit]

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Preceded by United States Secretary of the Interior
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