Andrew Wheeler, Senior Advisor to the Governor

On April 15, Governor Youngkin issued a press release announcing “additional key administration appointments”.  Several of those appointments were duly noted by various newspapers and other media outlets. Others were not, although they are interesting in their own right, raising some issues and shedding light on the administration.  Because different issues are raised with different appointments, I will discuss them in separate articles.

One of the most controversial early actions of Youngkin was the appointment of Andrew Wheeler as Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources.  Wheeler had been the director of the Environmental Protection Agency during the Trump administration.  Democrats in the General Assembly were incensed, and the Senate refused to confirm Wheeler’s appointment.  Wheeler stayed on as Acting Secretary until the legislative session ended, when state law prohibited his continuing in that position.  Youngkin then announced that Wheeler would remain in the administration as a senior advisor to the governor.  Travis Voyles, who had  earlier been appointed Deputy Secretary, was designated as Acting secretary.

A month and a half later, the Governor’s press release announced the appointment of Voyles as Interim Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources.   Voyles worked in various roles in the federal Environmental Protection Agency in the Trump administration and then moved to work for Republicans on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

The terms “acting” and “interim” imply a temporary situation.     Accordingly, I asked the Governor’s office, “Does the Governor expect to appoint a Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources, rather than an Acting or Interim Secretary, in the near future?”  An aide to Youngkin replied, “Travis Voyles is a highly qualified individual that will continue to serve as the Interim Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources.”   The implication is certainly that Voyles will continue indefinitely as the Interim or Acting Secretary.  (The terms seem to be used interchangeably by the administration. The press release refers to “Interim Secretary”, but the secretariat website designates Voyles as the “Acting Secretary”.)

The likely situation now is that Wheeler is the de facto Secretary, dealing with agency issues and making policy decisions from the Governor’s office, and Voyles is functionally, if not in title, his deputy.  To make it even more convenient for the Governor, Wheeler’s dealings with Voyles and the agencies in the secretariat would probably be shielded from inquiry due to his status as “senior advisor” to the governor.

The question might arise as to why not go ahead and appoint Voyles the Secretary, without the “Acting” designation.  After all, he could still be expected to get guidance from Wheeler.  State law (Sec. 2.2-605) authorizes the Governor to appoint someone to act as head of a division or agency of state government when the person appointed to head that division is unable, due to sickness or any other reason, to carry out the duties.  Although the statue contemplates such appointment as acting head to be temporary, there is no time limit on how long an “acting” head can “exercise the powers and perform the duties of such office.”  Furthermore, there is no provision or requirement that someone appointed to be the “acting” or “interim” head of a division or department of state government must be confirmed by the General Assembly.  In the federal government, there is a limit on how long someone can serve in an “acting” role.

Conceivably, environmental policy can be carried out in the Youngkin administration by a Senior Advisor and an Acting Secretary, neither of whom is subject to confirmation by the General Assembly. Furthermore, their inter-communications could probably be exempted from FOIA because anything Wheeler touches could be considered Governor’s “working papers.”  This situation does not seem to be in keeping with the Governor’s professed desire to foster a “culture of transparency and accountability.”  (Once again, the deft hand of Richard Cullen is evident.)

Democrats could have perhaps avoided the controversy and resultant fallout if they had relented and confirmed Wheeler as Secretary.

However, perhaps Democrats should not despair, after all.  The website of the Acting Secretary of Natural and Historic Resources contains the following statement under initiatives of the secretariat:

Climate change is an urgent and pressing challenge for Virginia, the United States, and the world. The Commonwealth is already feeling the impacts of global warming in the form of rising sea levels, increased flooding, and more extreme weather events. The Commonwealth has decided to act boldly to reduce climate pollution and mitigate the impacts of a warming world.

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10 responses to “De Facto Secretary?”

  1. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    As Dick points out the Ds could have saved themselves a lot of headaches by confirming Andy Wheeler. Since he is more than qualified having spent years as the chief staff person for the US Senate’s Environmental Committee and as EPA Administrator. The Ds focused on the time he spent as a lobbyist for the coal industry.
    This is the logical outcome of allowing environmental zealotry or purity overwhelm the confirmation process which should focus on a simple question. Is the nominee qualified?

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and then vote against them you’ve got no business being up here.” — Jesse M. Unruh, California State Assemblyman (D) and Speaker, 1955-1971

        Also, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics” — 1966

  2. VaNavVet Avatar

    Perhaps the Youngkin admin should be careful what they wish for.

  3. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Foxes and hens…
    Speaking of people not keeping up with the times, the Army is seeking research on:

    A224-014: “Engineered Domestic Hardwood Replacement for Critically Endangered Species Hardwood”

    Have these guys never been to Lowes?

  4. DJRippert Avatar

    Youngkin is playing too many games. Lobbyists on leave of absence, de-facto directors. It’s time for Glenn to “man up” and just deal with things in a straight-forward manner.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      He’s former Carlyle Grp. Straight-forward is not part of his training.

  5. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    I’m starting a company. We’re going to bundle a bunch of free TV streaming services for $70/month. I’m calling it cable TV.

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    De Facto Secrecy…. aka Incompetence.

  7. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    De Facto Secrecy…. aka Incompetence.

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