|53rd United States Secretary of the Interior|
April 11, 2019
Acting: January 2, 2019 - April 11, 2019
|7th United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior|
August 1, 2017 - April 11, 2019
|Michael L. Connor|
|Solicitor of the United States Department of the Interior|
October 5, 2006 - January 20, 2009
|President||George W. Bush|
|Sue Ellen Wooldridge|
David Longly Bernhardt
August 17, 1969
Rifle, Colorado, U.S.
George Washington University (JD, 1994)
David Longly Bernhardt (born August 17, 1969) is an American politician, attorney, oil and energy industry lobbyist, and a government administrator. He currently serves as the 53rd United States Secretary of the Interior. He was a shareholder at the Colorado law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, he began working for the United States Department of the Interior in 2001, and served as the department's solicitor from 2006 to 2009, among other roles.
President Donald Trump nominated Bernhardt to be the United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior in April 2017. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 24, 2017, and sworn into office on August 1. He became acting Secretary of the Interior on January 2, 2019, replacing Ryan Zinke after he resigned from office. Bernhardt was nominated to officially become Secretary of the Interior in February 2019 and was confirmed on April 11, 2019.
Growing up in Rifle, Colorado, Bernhardt's father was a county extension agent and his mother was in the real estate business. He was active in Colorado politics from the age of sixteen, when he made his case to the Rifle City Council not to levy taxes on arcade games at a teen center he was starting in his hometown. He left high school early, earning his GED, then his bachelor's degree from the University of Northern Colorado in 1990. While at the University of Northern Colorado, he applied for and received an internship at the Supreme Court of the United States. He graduated with honors from the George Washington University Law School in 1994. He was admitted to the Colorado Bar Association later that year.
Bernhardt began his career as a lawyer in Colorado. In the 1990s, he worked for U.S. Representative Scott McInnis, a Grand Junction Republican. In 1998 he became an associate with Brownstein Hyatt and Farber, a Denver law and lobbying firm.
Bernhardt worked for the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) during George W. Bush's presidency. Early in his career with the DOI, he was deputy chief of staff and counselor to then-Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton. He also served early on at the DOI as director of congressional and legislative affairs. Later he became solicitor at the DOI after unanimous confirmation from the United States Senate. He was also the United States Commissioner to the International Boundary Commission, U.S. and Canada.
Bernhardt served as Solicitor of the United States Department of the Interior from 2006 to 2009. President George W. Bush nominated him in November 2005, subject to Senate confirmation. He was the DOI deputy solicitor at the time. Bernhardt was sworn into office in November 2006, after being unanimously confirmed by the Senate.
Bernhardt served as DOI Solicitor until 2009. That year he rejoined the Colorado-based law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck. He became a shareholder in the firm and chairman of the firm's natural resources law practice. Bernhardt's clients included Halliburton, Cobalt International Energy, Samson Resources, and the Independent Petroleum Association of America.
Through Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Bernhardt represented San Joaquin Valley's Westlands Water District in "a lawsuit that sought to undo court-imposed protections for endangered salmon in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta". Berhardt also represented entities such as the proposed Rosemont Copper open pit mine in Arizona. Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck was involved in representing other mining, oil, and extractive industries, as well as projects such as the Cadiz, Inc. groundwater pumping project in the Mojave Desert in California. Cadiz later refuted that Bernhardt had lobbied directly for the company, though environmentalists at the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity suspected Bernhardt's involvement when the DOI changed its views to be positive towards the project in March 2017.
In 2011, Bernhardt filed a lawsuit for Westlands that "sought to force the feds to make good on a commitment to build a multibillion-dollar system to dispose of the poisoned water" resulting from toxic irrigation in the Westlands district. Later, through the 2017 bill HR 1769, Westlands agreed to drop the lawsuit in exchange for forgiven debt and long-term access to water from Central Valley Project facilities. In April 2017, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the settlement, but rejected an amendment that would have "barred former Westlands officials or lobbyists -- meaning Bernhardt -- from working on the drainage issue for five years".
Until the end of 2016, Bernhardt remained an attorney and lobbyist for the San Joaquin Valley's Westlands Water District. In November 2016, he de-listed himself as a lobbyist, to avoid "running afoul of the new president's ban on lobbyists joining his administration". After withdrawing his formal registration as a lobbyist, Bernhardt became a consultant to the Westlands Water District. While remaining a lawyer at Brownstein Hyatt Farber and Schreck, after November 2016 Bernhardt was briefly in charge of the Interior Department transition team for President Donald Trump. In that role, he was in charge of overseeing staffing in the DOI along with Devin Nunes. By April 2017, he was on a $20,000-a-month retainer for Westlands.
Until resigning by early 2017, he was on the board of the Center for Environmental Science Accuracy and Reliability.
On April 28, 2017, Trump nominated Bernhardt to be the United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior of the Trump administration. The role made Bernhardt the "top deputy to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and COO of the federal lands and energy agency". The appointment was praised by Zinke, Republican members of Congress, and former Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, as well as Outdoor Recreation Industry Roundtable, Ducks Unlimited, and the Boone and Crocket Club. His nomination was strongly opposed by conservationists,fishing groups, and California Democrats, who cited his history of representing and lobbying on behalf of oil companies and agricultural interests as well as conflict-of-interest concerns arising from his firm's work on regulation issues with the DOI. Among the conservationist groups who opposed the nomination were the Western Values Project, which sued the Interior Department to obtain documents about Bernhardt's tenure for the department under George Bush, and the Center for Biological Diversity, whose head said Bernhardt had "always sided with big business at the expense of our most imperiled wildlife. If confirmed he'd be a disaster for all endangered species."
At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in mid-May 2017, Bernhardt testified that he would "apply the law and be honest with the science" at the Interior Department but also said the president's views, rather than the recommendations of scientists, would guide the Interior Department's policies whenever possible. Ethics issues were raised by Senators such as Maria Cantwell, with Bernhardt replying he took ethics very seriously. He said that unless he received authorization to do so, he would not involve himself substantially in any particular matter involving his former clients.
During Bernhardt's tenure as Deputy Secretary and Acting Secretary, the Department of the Interior has substantially increased fossil fuel sales on public land and embarked on a program of deregulation.
In 2019, Politico reported that heads of the oil industry lobbyist group Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) boasted about their ties to Bernhardt. Bernhardt had IPAA as a client during his legal career.
As part of his 2017 Senate confirmation hearing Bernhardt had submitted a written statement saying, "I have not engaged in regulated lobbying on behalf of Westlands Water District after November 18, 2016." Westlands Water District is an agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley. During his time in office he has received criticism for using his position to enact some of the policies he worked for while a lobbyist for Westlands Water District. In March 2019, The New York Times disclosed documents that show he had been working as a lobbyist for the Westlands Water District at least as late as April 2017. If the information obtained by the Times is correct, Bernhardt's activities could violate federal laws requiring lobbyists to disclose their activities.
On January 2, 2019, Bernhardt became Acting Secretary of the Interior, replacing Ryan Zinke. On February 4, 2019, Trump nominated Bernhardt to be Secretary of the United States Department of the Interior. He was confirmed by the Senate on April 11, 2019, by a vote of 56 to 41.
In September 2019, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding that Bernhardt, then acting Secretary, had twice broken federal law when in January 2019 he directed the National Park Service to use park entrance fees for maintenance in keeping parks open during the government shutdown. The report found that the Interior Department moved funds between accounts without authorization from Congress in violation of the Antideficiency Act and federal appropriations law. The Interior Department rejected the GAO's conclusion, and maintained that the directive was an "appropriate and lawful use of Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act funds."
As Secretary of the Interior, he defended the Trump administration's rollback of environmental regulations.
In May 2020, two activist groups, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and the Western Watersheds Project, sued over Bernhardt's ongoing interim appointments of William Perry Pendley to run the Bureau of Land Management and David Vela to lead the National Park Service, appointments that bypassed a Senate confirmation process.
Bernhardt on August 17, 2020, announced plans for an oil and gas leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, clearing the way for drilling in the remote Alaskan area.
On August 20, 2020, Bernhardt designated the site of the 1908 Springfield Race Riot for inclusion in the National Park Service's African American Civil Rights Network. It is the 30th site to achieve such a designation, which includes sites associated with the civil rights movement in the United States, such as the Selma to Montgomery National Historic Trail in Alabama and the Pullman National Monument in Chicago.
On September 11, 2020, David Bernhardt, Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, accompanied and introduced President Donald Trump, at the Nineteen Observance of the Flight 93 Memorial, as President Trump paid tribute Friday to the 40 passengers and crew of United Flight 93, who helped bring down the hijacked airplane short of its believed target - the nation's capital - on Sept. 11, 2001. As Secretary Bernhardt introduced President Trump, he explained the National Park Service's many sites together tell the history of America and reflect many noteworthy acts and individuals - "but none more so than this site, dedicated to 40 heroes."
Michael L. Connor
| United States Deputy Secretary of the Interior
| United States Secretary of the Interior
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
as Attorney General
| Order of Precedence of the United States
Secretary of Interior
as Secretary of Agriculture
|U.S. presidential line of succession|
as Attorney General
| 8th in line
Secretary of Interior
as Secretary of Agriculture