|53rd United States Secretary of the Interior|
January 2, 2019 – January 20, 2021
Acting: January 2, 2019 – April 11, 2019
|Preceded by||Ryan Zinke|
|Succeeded by||Deb Haaland|
|7th United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior|
August 1, 2017 – April 11, 2019
|Preceded by||Michael L. Connor|
|Succeeded by||Katharine MacGregor|
|Solicitor of the United States Department of the Interior|
October 5, 2006 – January 20, 2009
|President||George W. Bush|
|Preceded by||Sue Ellen Wooldridge|
|Succeeded by||Hilary Tompkins|
David Longly Bernhardt
August 17, 1969
Rifle, Colorado, U.S.
|Education||University of Northern Colorado (BA)|
David Longly Bernhardt (born August 17, 1969) is an American attorney. From 2019 to 2021, he served as the 53rd United States secretary of the interior. From 2017 to 2019, he served as the deputy secretary of the interior. Before serving in the Trump Administration, he was a shareholder at the Colorado law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, 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, and served as the department's solicitor from 2006 to 2009, among other roles.
President Donald Trump nominated Bernhardt to be the deputy secretary of the interior in April 2017. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 24, 2017, and sworn into office on August 1. He became acting secretary of the interior on January 2, 2019, following Ryan Zinke's resignation. Bernhardt was nominated to officially become Secretary of the Interior in February 2019 and was confirmed on April 11, 2019. He served as the designated survivor for Trump's 2020 State of the Union.
Early life and education
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. He left high school early, earning his GED, then his bachelor's degree from the University of Northern Colorado in 1990. While at the University of Northern Colorado, he applied for and received an internship at the Supreme Court of the United States. He graduated with honors from the George Washington University Law School in 1994. He was admitted to the Colorado Bar Association later that year.
Bernhardt began his career as a lawyer in Colorado. In the 1990s, he worked for U.S. Representative Scott McInnis, a Grand Junction Republican. In 1998 he became an associate with Brownstein Hyatt and Farber, a Denver law and lobbying firm.
George W. Bush administration
Bernhardt worked for the Department of the Interior during George W. Bush's presidency. Early in his career with the DOI, he was deputy chief of staff and counselor to then-secretary of the interior Gale Norton. 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. He was also the United States commissioner to the International Boundary Commission, U.S. and Canada.
President George W. Bush nominated Bernhardt to serve as Solicitor of the Department of the Interior in November 2005, subject to Senate confirmation. He was the DOI deputy solicitor at the time. Bernhardt was sworn into office in November 2006, after being unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He served as Solicitor from 2006 to January, 2009.
Legal work and lobbying work
In 2009, he rejoined the Colorado-based law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. He became a shareholder in the firm and chairman of the firm's natural resources law practice. Bernhardt's clients included Westlands Water District, Halliburton, Cobalt International Energy, Samson Resources, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
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". Berhardt also represented entities such as the proposed Rosemont Copper open pit mine in Arizona.
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.
DOI transition team
Until the end of 2016, Bernhardt remained an attorney and lobbyist for the Westlands Water District. In November 2016, he de-listed himself as a lobbyist, reportedly to avoid "running afoul of the new president's ban on lobbyists joining his administration". After withdrawing his formal registration as a lobbyist, Bernhardt became a consultant to the Westlands Water District for a $20,000 per month retainer. 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. In that role, he was in charge of overseeing staffing in the Department of the Interior along with Devin Nunes.
Until resigning by early 2017, he was on the board of the Center for Environmental Science Accuracy and Reliability.
Deputy Secretary of the Interior
On April 28, 2017, Trump nominated Bernhardt to be the deputy secretary of the interior. The role made Bernhardt the "top deputy to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and COO of the federal lands and energy agency". The appointment was praised by Zinke, Republican members of Congress, and former-interior secretary Dirk Kempthorne, as well as Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable, Ducks Unlimited, and the Boone and Crocket Club. His nomination was strongly opposed by conservationists, fishing groups, and California Democrats, who cited his history of representing and lobbying on behalf of oil companies and agricultural interests as well as conflict-of-interest concerns arising from his firm's work on regulation issues with the DOI.
At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in mid-May 2017, Bernhardt testified that he would "apply the law and be honest with the science" at the Interior Department but also said the president's views, rather than the recommendations of scientists, would guide the Interior Department's policies whenever possible. 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.
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.
In 2019, Politico reported that heads of the oil industry lobbyist group Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) boasted about their ties to Bernhardt. Bernhardt had IPAA as a client during his legal career.
As part of his 2017 Senate confirmation hearing Bernhardt submitted a written statement saying, "I have not engaged in regulated lobbying on behalf of Westlands Water District after November 18, 2016." Westlands Water District is a public agency of the State of California in the San Joaquin Valley. In March 2019, The New York Times disclosed documents that appeared to show he may have been working as a lobbyist for the Westlands Water District at least as late as April 2017. A spokesperson for Bernhardt said the invoice had been labeled incorrectly and that Bernhardt "did not engage in regulated lobbying activities for Westlands Water District from the date he de-registered forward."
In April 2019, eight Democratic Senators and four government watchdog groups requested that the inspector general of the Interior Department launch an investigation into Bernhardt. 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.
Secretary of the Interior
On January 2, 2019, Bernhardt became acting secretary of the interior, replacing Ryan Zinke. On February 4, 2019, Trump nominated Bernhardt to be Secretary of the Interior. He was confirmed by the Senate on April 11, 2019, by a vote of 56 to 41.
In September 2019, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding that Bernhardt, then acting secretary, had twice violated federal law 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. 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. 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."
As Secretary of the Interior, he defended the Trump administration's rollback of environmental regulations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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