David Bernhardt

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David Bernhardt
David Bernhardt official photo.jpg
Acting United States Secretary of the Interior
Assumed office
January 2, 2019
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byRyan Zinke
United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior
Assumed office
August 1, 2017
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byMichael L. Connor
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
Born (1969-08-17) August 17, 1969 (age 49)
Rifle, Colorado, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
EducationUniversity of Northern Colorado (BA)
George Washington University (JD)

David Longly Bernhardt (born August 17, 1969) is an American attorney, lobbyist and government administrator who serves as Acting United States Secretary of the Interior. A partner and shareholder at the Colorado law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck,[1] he began working for the United States Department of the Interior in 2001,[2] and served as the department's solicitor from 2006 to 2009, among other roles.[3][4]

On April 28, 2017, President Donald Trump nominated him to be the United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior.[5] He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 24, 2017.[6] He was sworn into office on August 1, 2017.[7] On January 2, 2019, he became Acting Secretary of the Interior, replacing Ryan Zinke.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Growing up in Rifle, Colorado,[3] Bernhardt was active in Colorado politics from the age of sixteen, when he made his case to the Rifle City Council to not levy taxes on arcade games at a teen center he was starting in his hometown.[4] He earned 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[9] in 1994. He was admitted to the Colorado Bar Association later that year.[10]


Early legal career[edit]

He started his career as a lawyer in Colorado. Early on he worked for U.S. Representative Scott McInnis, a Grand Junction Republican.[3] He worked for McInnis in the 1990s, and then in 1998[9] he became an associate with Brownstein Hyatt and Farber, a Denver law and lobbying firm.[3]

Department of the Interior Solicitor[edit]

He began working for the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) in 2001.[11] 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 became solicitor at the DOI[3] after unanimous confirmation from the United States Senate. He was also the United States Commissioner to the International Boundary Commission, U.S. and Canada.[11]

Bernhardt served as Solicitor of the United States Department of the Interior from 2006 to 2009.[3][4] President George W. Bush nominated him in November 2005, subject to Senate confirmation.[12] 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 Senate.[5][13]

Legal work and lobbying[edit]

Bernhardt served as DOI Solicitor until 2009.[5] That year he rejoined the Colorado-based law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.[9] Bernhardt became a shareholder in the firm[1] and chairman[5] of the firm's natural resources law practice.[9] Bernhardt's clients included Halliburton, Cobalt International Energy, Samson Resources, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.[14]

Through Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Bernhardt represented San Joaquin Valley’s Westlands Water District in "a lawsuit that sought to undo court-imposed protections for endangered salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta."[15] Berhardt also represented entities such as the proposed Rosemont Copper open pit mine in Arizona.[1] Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck was involved in representing other mining, oil, and extractive industries, as well as projects such as the Cadiz, Inc. groundwater pumping project in the Mojave Desert in California.[16] Cadiz later refuted that Bernhardt had lobbied directly for the company, though environmentalists at the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity suspected Bernhardt's involvement when the DOI changed its views to be positive towards the project in March 2017.[1]

In 2011, Bernhardt filed a lawsuit for Westlands 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. Later, through the 2017 bill HR 1769, Westlands agreed to drop the lawsuit in exchange for forgiven debt and long-term access to water from Central Valley Project facilities. In April 2017, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the settlement, but rejected an amendment that would have "barred former Westlands officials or lobbyists — meaning Bernhardt — from working on the drainage issue for five years."[15]

DOI transition team[edit]

Until the end of 2016, he remained an attorney and lobbyist for the San Joaquin Valley's Westlands Water District.[15] In November 2016, Bernhardt de-listed himself as a lobbyist, to avoid "running afoul of the new president's ban on lobbyists joining his administration."[16] After withdrawing his formal registration as a lobbyist, Bernhardt became a consultant to the Westlands Water District.[17] 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 DOI along with Devin Nunes.[16] In recent years, he served on the board of directors for the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries,[9] resigning prior to January 2017.[18] By April 2017, he was on a $20,000-a-month retainer for Westlands.[16]

Until resigning by early 2017, he was on the board of the Center for Environmental Science Accuracy and Reliability.[19]

Deputy Secretary of the Interior[edit]

On April 28, 2017, Trump nominated Bernhardt to be the United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior of the Trump administration.[5][11][1][20] The role makes 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,[9][5] as well as U.S. Representative David Valadao of California,[15] Representative Scott Tipton of Colorado,[10] and Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado.[10] Former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne also supported Bernhardt with his comments.[1]

Other groups criticized Bernhardt as a "high-powered lobbyist" with conflict-of-interest concerns, due to his firm's work on regulation issues with the DOI[5] and his history of representing oil companies and agricultural interests.[1] The appointment was met with strong criticism from conservationists and fishing interests in California,[15][16] where Bernhardt had worked as a lobbyist and attorney.[15] Also criticizing the choice,[9] the Western Values Project sued the Interior Department to obtain documents about Bernhardt's tenure for the department under George Bush.[5] The head of the Center for Biological Diversity said that Bernhardt had "always sided with big business at the expense of our most imperiled wildlife. If confirmed he'd be a disaster for all endangered species."[1] In the middle of May 2017, before his confirmation hearing, the Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable sent letters to Senators Maria Cantwell and Lisa Murkowski expressing support for Bernhardt. Letters of support were also received from Ducks Unlimited and the Boone and Crocket Club.[21]

He appeared at his confirmation hearing before the United States Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on May 18, 2017.[22] During his questioning, he testified that "we will apply the law and be honest with the science" in reference to the Interior department.[21] During the hearing, he said the president's views, rather than the recommendations of scientists, would guide the Interior Department's policies whenever possible.[22] 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 matter involving his former clients.[21]

On July 24, 2017, the Senate confirmed Bernhardt's nomination by a vote of 53–43.[23] 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 has substantially increased fossil fuel sales on public land and embarked on a program of deregulation.[24]

Personal life[edit]

He lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his wife Gena[11] and two children.[9] Bernhardt is a hunter and angler.[9][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h 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.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Soraghan, Mike (November 18, 2005). "Colo. lawyer tapped for Interior post". Denverpost.com. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e Soraghan, Mike (December 4, 2006). "Interior lawyer knows Colorado". Denverpost.com. Retrieved May 13, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i "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. ^ Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke resigning, cites “vicious” attacks
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i Paul, Jesse (April 29, 2017). "Colorado native David Bernhardt tapped by Trump for deputy interior secretary". Denver Post. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  10. ^ a b c Harmon, Gary (May 5, 2017). "Rifle man tapped for No. 2 spot at Interior". The Daily Sentinel. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d e "President Donald J. Trump Announces Key Additions to his Administration". The White House. April 28, 2017. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  12. ^ Pres. Nom. 1,089, 109th Cong. (2005).
  13. ^ Pres. Nom. 1,916, 109th Cong. (2006).
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ a b c d e f Brekke, Dan (April 28, 2016). "Trump Appoints Valley Water District's Lobbyist to Interior Department Post". KQED. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  16. ^ a b c d e Lochhead, Carolyn (May 1, 2017). "Ex-water district lobbyist nominated for Interior Department post". SFGate. Retrieved May 14, 2017.
  17. ^ "INTERIOR: Deputy nominee still advising Calif. water district - Tuesday, July 18, 2017". www.eenews.net. July 18, 2017. Retrieved March 8, 2018.
  18. ^ "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.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Pres. Nom. 365, 115th Cong. (2017).
  21. ^ a b c Lunney, Kellie (May 18, 2017). "Senators press interior nominee on science and climate". Science Magazine. Retrieved June 1, 2017.
  22. ^ a b Whieldon, Esther (May 18, 2017). "US Interior Department nominee: Trump 'perspective' should outweigh climate science whenever possible". Politico. Retrieved June 1, 2017.
  23. ^ Master, Cyra (July 24, 2017). "Senate confirms Trump's nominee for No. 2 Interior post". The Hill. Retrieved July 26, 2017.
  24. ^ "The New Acting Interior Secretary Is An Agency Insider And Ex-Oil Lobbyist". NPR. January 2, 2019. Retrieved January 8, 2019.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Michael L. Connor
United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior
Preceded by
Ryan Zinke
United States Secretary of the Interior