The organizations suing the U.S. Department of the Interior on claims that it violated federal law through the continued reappointment of the acting head for federal lands are now saying he must step down to undergo a formal nomination before the U.S. Senate.
The department on Monday responded with a denial that the official, William Perry Pendley, was ever acting director in the first place.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Western Watersheds Project challenged the ongoing appointment of Pendley as acting director of the Bureau of Land Management, in which capacity he has served for nearly a year. They cited a 210-day maximum period under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act that appointees may continue in office without Senate confirmation.
On June 30 of this year, President Donald Trump sent Pendley’s nomination to the Senate.
“However, that action disqualified Pendley from remaining in his acting status atop BLM,” a statement from PEER reads, citing the portion of federal law prohibiting a person from being an acting officer if “the President submits a nomination of such person to the Senate for appointment to such office.”
“Oh, what a tangled web they weave,” said PEER’s senior counsel, Peter Jenkins. “Mr. Pendley had spent his legal career expressing contempt for federal law and continues to do so even in his current posting as a federal officer.”
A spokesperson for the Interior Department responded by calling the claim "frivolous," and also denying that the acting director was the acting director.
"These groups should do a little legal research before wasting everyone's time with irresponsible and reckless accusations," the statement from the department read. "William Perry Pendley is not, and has never been, Acting BLM Director. There are no issues raised by the Vacancies Reform Act when it comes to the important work Mr. Pendley continues to perform on behalf of the American people."
Pendley's official title is deputy director for policy and programs at the BLM, while also "exercising authority of the director," according to the agency's website.
However, a September 2019 order from Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt listed Pendley and six other individuals to take over the duties of their appointed offices. In the same provision giving Pendley his authority was a delegation to Lanny Erdos, who is still identified as the "acting director" of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
Another appointee in the order, Kate MacGregor, was identified in a subsequent press release from Interior as the "acting" deputy secretary.
The Interior Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.