WASHINGTON — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Monday that nearly one-third of employees at his department are not loyal to him and President Donald Trump, adding that he is working to change the department's regulatory culture to be more business friendly.
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, said he knew when he took over the 70,000-employee department in March that, "I got 30 percent of the crew that's not loyal to the flag."
In a speech to an oil industry group, Zinke compared Interior to a pirate ship that captures "a prized ship at sea and only the captain and the first mate row over" to finish the mission.
"We do have good people" at Interior, he said, "but the direction has to be clear and you've got to hold people accountable."
Zinke's comments echo complaints by some White House allies that a permanent, "deep state" in Washington has sabotaged Trump's efforts to remake the government.
Zinke did not go that far, but he lamented a government culture that prizes analysis over action, saying: "There's too many ways in the present process for someone who doesn't want to get (a regulatory action) done to put it a holding pattern."
To remedy that, Zinke said he is pursuing a major reorganization that would push much of the agency's decision-making outside Washington and move several agencies, including the Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management, to undetermined Western states.
The moves follow military strategy, Zinke said: "Push your generals where the fight is."
While details remain largely under wraps, Zinke said he was excited.
"It's going to be huge," he said in a speech to the National Petroleum Council, an advisory committee that includes leaders of the oil and gas industry. "I really can't change the culture without changing the structure."
Besides moving employees, Zinke said he wants to speed up permits for oil drilling, logging and other energy development that now can take years.
"The president wants it yesterday," Zinke said, referring to permits for energy development. "We have to do it by the law."
On other topics, Zinke said the Endangered Species Act has been "abused" by bureaucrats and environmental groups and needs to be reformed to be less "arbitrary."
"There is no off-ramp" for species to be removed from protected status, he said.
Zinke also offered a quirky defense of hydraulic fracturing, a drilling technique also known as fracking that has led to a years-long energy boom in the U.S., with sharply increased production of oil and natural gas.
"Fracking is proof that God's got a good sense of humor and he loves us," Zinke said without explanation.