Environmental activists have criticized Mr. Zinke throughout his tenure, as the interior secretary has sought to scale back protections on public lands and open up vast new areas to oil and gas drilling.
They amped up their criticism of the ethics of the Interior Department this week amid reports that a political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Suzanne Tufts, would be moved to the Interior Department to act as its chief watchdog.
“This move is particularly troubling considering the multiple investigations currently underway at D.O.I. — including several surrounding Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — and the potential for the personnel change to disrupt those investigations,” Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee said in a statement Thursday.
Despite the increased scrutiny of Mr. Zinke’s actions, the report did not include any sharply critical findings. It concluded that Mr. Zinke ultimately reimbursed the agency for the cost incurred to taxpayers for his wife’s travel in government vehicles and that he did not follow through on initial proposals that his wife become an agency volunteer.
Despite an Interior Department policy prohibiting nongovernment employees from riding in government vehicles, the agency’s Office of Solicitor Division of General Law approved Mrs. Zinke and others to ride in government vehicles with Mr. Zinke, the report found. The agency’s deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, and deputy solicitor, Edward Keable, said that Mr. Zinke was not bound by his agency’s policy, while the principal deputy solicitor, Daniel Jorjani, said he was unsure, the report found.
The report found that it was not a violation of policy for Mr. Zinke to request the security detail while on vacation, though it noted the significant cost to taxpayers.
While Mr. Zinke’s request that his security detail drive a nongovernment employee to the airport was a violation of policy, he was told that it was inappropriate “and it has not happened again,” the report found.
The inspector general also investigated an allegation that Mr. Zinke requested a government cellphone for his wife and that an employee quit after being told to walk Mr. Zinke’s dog, but concluded that those reports were unfounded.
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