Interior Department denies Ryan Zinke told staff 'diversity isn't important'

The Interior Department is denying a CNN report published Monday that alleged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke repeatedly has said the agency shouldn’t prioritize hiring diverse candidates.

Three unnamed high-ranking officials within the department said Zinke has made it clear he doesn’t care about diversity and would rather concentrate on “having the right person for the right job,” according to CNN.

“[Zinke] flat out said, ‘I don’t really think that’s important anymore. We don’t need to focus on [diversity] anymore,’” one unnamed Interior Department official reportedly told the outlet.

Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, said the allegations against Zinke were “untrue.”

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US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ME - JUNE 14: With Mount Katahdin in the background, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talks to the media during a tour of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Zinke was touring the monument because it is one of dozens of monuments up for review under an executive order from President Trump. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a boat to Georges Island, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is interviewed by Reuters, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (L) high fives National Park Service Ranger Beth Jackendoff on his National Monuments review visiting sites around Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke waits to take the stage with President Donald Trump for his on infrastructure improvements, at the Department of Transportation in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (C) talks to National Park Service Rangers, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Ryan Zinke visits SiriusXM Studios on September 12, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
SHANKSVILLE, PA - SEPTEMBER 10: Visitors listen to US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at the groundbreaking of the Tower Of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial on the 16th Anniversary ceremony of the September 11th terrorist attacks, September 10, 2017 in Shanksville, PA. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field outside Shanksville, PA with 40 passengers and 4 hijackers aboard on September 11, 2001. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on June 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed FY2018 budget request for the Interior Department. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the department's FY2018 budget request on June 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ME - JUNE 14: With Mount Katahdin in the background, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, talks with Lucas St. Clair, right, during a tour of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Zinke was touring the monument because it is one of dozens of monuments up for review under an executive order from President Trump. St. Clair's family gifted the land for the monument. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the department's FY2018 budget request on June 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
MILLINOCKET, ME - JUNE 15: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with members of the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce and Millinocket town council during a breakfast at Twin Pines Lodge in Millinocket on Thursday, June 14, 2017. Zinke is in Maine for a review of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, one of over two dozen reviews ordered by President Trump. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke listens while US President Donald Trump speaks at the US Department of Transportation June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump visit of the Transportation Department is part of a White House push to overhaul America's infrastructure. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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“As a woman who has worked for him for a number of years in senior positions, I say without a doubt this claim is untrue, and I am hopeful that they are a result of a misunderstanding and not a deliberate mistruth,” Swift said Monday in a statement emailed to HuffPost. 

Swift pointed to the several Interior Department appointments under Zinke ― including Brenda Burman, the first woman to lead the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation ― and his previous invitations to speak at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation events, to suggest the secretary is committed to diversity.

“The Secretary has surrounded himself with experienced professionals from diverse backgrounds,” Swift said.

Zinke came under fire in June when he unexpectedly reassigned 33 senior executives. An attorney for one of the reassigned staffers told CNN she believed at least 15 were minorities.

More than 70 percent of the Interior Department’s 68,000 employees are white, CNN reported, citing data from the Office of Personnel Management. 

A leaked version of the department’s 2018-2022 strategic plan also did not have the diversity and inclusion mandate laid out by the previous administration, Outside magazine reported in November.

The department’s 2014-2018 strategic plan under President Barack Obama called for a “highly skilled and engaged workforce that reflects the diversity of the Nation. Differences in background, thought, education, and experience contribute to the varied perspectives in the workplace and create a synergy for higher performance and success in the achievement of DOI’s mission goals.”

Zinke’s plan omits this language, and instead focuses on ways to “generate revenues and grow the U.S. economy” by rolling back environmental regulations imposed on fossil fuel companies.

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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