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.”

“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.