Wyden, Merkley, Warren Press Interior Department on Agency’s Disregard for COVID-19 Safety

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., urged the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to immediately issue guidance for its employees on mask and personal protective equipment (PPE) policies consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. The senators also asked that DOI agency employees be directed to follow state guidelines and cooperate with county-level and state-level coronavirus investigations and contact tracing. 

The senators’ letter to DOI Secretary David Bernhardt follows reports from the Klamath Tribes of Oregon that Bernhardt refused to wear a mask when recently meeting with the Tribe, as well as on-the-ground reports of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees ignoring Oregon’s mask mandates.

“[W]e are concerned this blatant disregard for the public health is happening across the agency in other states,” the senators wrote. “This type of cavalier and callous indifference for human safety is unacceptable, especially from those in positions of leadership.”

“Any effort to address this pandemic must be driven by facts, in coordination with our public health officials, and be absent of any political motivations. Department wide guidance on face coverings and requiring employees across the Department of Interior to follow both CDC and state guidelines will provide a clear and consistent message that will keep the country safe,” the senators concluded.

The senators requested a response by July 29, 2020.

A copy of the letter is available here.