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Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget

Susan Combs has been nominated to serve as “an assistant secretary of the Interior for policy, management and budget.” “The Office of Policy, Management and Budget (PMB) is situated within the Office of the Secretary and is responsible for a variety of cross-cutting management and operational issues that directly affect the Department’s ability to fulfill its mission. The Assistant Secretary-PMB leads the office and serves as the agency’s Chief Financial Officer, Chief Acquisition Officer, and Chief Performance Officer.” 

A San Antonio native, Susan Combs has been a figure in Texas politics for decades and has consistently worked to undermine the Endangered Species Act. After working on Wall Street in the 1960s, Combs went to law school and then worked as an assistant district attorney in Dallas. From 1993 to 1996, she was a Texas state Representative before she spent a brief stint working for Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson. Combs was elected Texas Agriculture Commissioner in 1998, a position she was re-elected to in 2002. In 2006, Combs was elected Texas Comptroller, a position she held until 2015. Since 2015, Combs has worked as a “Principal” at the Maravillas Group and has been a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing think tank that has received significant funding from ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, and Koch brother affiliates.

Sources: [“Office of Policy, Management and Budget,” Department of the Interior, accessed 07/27/17, Patrick Svitek, “Trump to nominate former comptroller Combs for Interior Department job,” Texas Tribune, 07/10/17, “Susan Combs,” The Texas Tribune, accessed 03/02/17, Steven H. Lee, “Tall in the Saddle,” Dallas Morning News, 01/08/99, Emily Ramsahw and Jay Root, “Susan Combs Won’t Seek Re-Election,” KUT 90.5, 05/29/13, “About Susan,” Susan Combs, accessed 07/27/17, and Forrest Wilder, “Revealed: The Corporations and Billionaires that Fund the Texas Public Policy Foundation,” Texas Observer, 08/24/12]

Special Interests

Texas Wildlife Association (Resource Development on Public Lands)

Combs served on the Board of Directors for the Texas Wildlife Association, a "property rights group" that has supported legislation to "thwart the Endangered Species Act and other environmental initiatives."

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also connected to:

Texas Oil and Gas Association (Resource Development on Public Lands)

While Combs was Texas Comptroller, she charged the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation, an organization created by Texas Oil and Gas Association lobbyists, with overseeing the protection of the dunes sagebrush lizard.

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also connected to:

Texas Public Policy Foundation (Resource Development on Public Lands)

Combs is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing think tank that has received significant funding from ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Devon Energy, and Koch brother affiliates.

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Reason Foundation (Resource Development on Public Lands)

In 2015, Combs' super PAC, in conjunction with libertarian think tank Reason Foundation, filed a petition to delist the golden-cheeked warbler. Reason Foundation receives funding from the oil-billionaire Koch brothers.

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also connected to:

Background Information

Previous Employers

Dallas County District Attorney’s Office 

Texas House of Representatives 

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, United States Senate

Texas Department of Agriculture

Office of the Texas Comptroller

Texans for Positive Economic Policy

Maravillas Group

Texas Public Policy Foundation 

Additional Background on Employers of Note: 

While Susan Combs was Texas State Representative in the 1990s, she “passed a law designed to restrict the state from sharing data,” data that “might be used to designate species as threatened or endangered,” with the Fish and Wildlife Service.

As state representative she also “passed a law allowing landowners to sue if state environmental actions devalued their property by more than 25 percent.”

[Joel Andrews, “Susan Combs Joins Trump’s Assault on the Endangered Species Act,” Texas Monthly, 07/12/17]

In 2011, when Susan Combs was Texas Comptroller, “she wrested control of endangered species away from the Department of Parks and Wildlife even though her office lacked a single biologist.”  

[Noah Greenwald, “At Interior, Foxes Now Run the Hen House,” Huffington Post, 07/19/17]

Under Susan Combs’ leadership as Texas Comptroller, the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation, an industry-funded foundation created by oil and gas lobbyists, was charged with “overseeing the protection” of the “dunes sagebrush lizard.” The subsequent comptroller fired the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation because it “failed to perform any of the habitat restoration work it was supposed to do.”

While Susan Combs was Texas Comptroller, the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation was charged with “overseeing the protection” of the “dunes sagebrush lizard.” The foundation was “created… by the petroleum industry specifically to manage protection of the tiny brown lizard in lieu of listing the species as endangered, which could have severely limited oil production in the area.” The board members who created the foundation were all “registered lobbyists for the powerful Texas Oil and Gas Association, also known as TXOGA.”

[Eric Dexheimer “State fires organization formed by Big Oil to manage threatened lizard,” Austin-American Statesman, 03/24/16, and Jay Root, “Oil Lobbyists Overseeing Protection of Threatened Lizard in Permian Basin,” Texas Tribune, 04/24/13]

The plan “called for Permian Basin landowners — petroleum companies, primarily — to voluntarily keep track of the animal and preserve its habitat,” and progress was “monitored by a biologist paid by energy companies; federal biologists [were] not permitted to know which properties [were] included in the plan.” Combs “hailed” the Texas Conservation Plan, as “a landmark compromise that would protect both the lizard and the Texas economy without onerous federal regulations.”

[Eric Dexheimer, “How Texas fights endangered species protections, critter by critter,” Austin-American Statesman, 08/01/15, and Eric Dexheimer “State fires organization formed by Big Oil to manage threatened lizard,” Austin-American Statesman, 03/24/16]

In 2016 Glenn Hagar, who was Texas Comptroller after Combs, fired the Texas Habitat Conservation Foundation because the organization “failed to perform any of the habitat restoration work it was supposed to do.”

[Eric Dexheimer “State fires organization formed by Big Oil to manage threatened lizard,” Austin-American Statesman, 03/24/16]

The “Texas Conservation Plan,” was “a major reason” that the dunes sagebrush lizard was not listed as an endangered species.

[“Dunes Sagebrush Lizard Not Threatened,” KXAN Radio, 06/14/12]

While she was Texas Comptroller, Susan Combs was a vocal critic of the Endangered Species Act, describing endangered species listings as “incoming SCUD missiles” and setting up a website to detail “potential impacts to the [Texas] economy of Endangered Species Act listings.”

Susan Combs, in 2011, said, “Washington is running amok” with listing species under the ESA, and that “the process that they use, for so-called listing – I think to call it ‘flawed’ is friendly. I think it’s nonexistent.”

[Susan Combs, “Susan Combs-Endangered Species,” YouTube, 10/16/11, 03:15]

At a Texas Public Policy Foundation panel in 2013, Susan Combs “complained about federal meddling in Texas’ affairs” and described endangered species listings as “incoming SCUD missiles.”

[Forrest Wilder, “We’re the Good Guys: Conservatives Make the Case for Free-Market Environmentalism,” Texas Observer, 01/12/13]

As Texas Comptroller, Combs “set up a website called Keeping Texas First that detail[ed] potential impacts to the state economy of Endangered Species Act listings and other environmental policies.”

[Chris D’Angelo, “Trump Interior Nominee Has A History Of Contempt For The Agency She’s About To Lead,” Huffington Post, 07/26/17]

While Susan Combs was Comptroller of Texas, her office “inadvertently released” “Social Security numbers and other personal information for 3.5 million people” on a publicly accessible computer server. The breach was “believed to be the most extensive ever in Texas and one of the largest of its kind nationally.”

While Susan Combs was Comptroller of Texas, her office “inadvertently released” “Social Security numbers and other personal information for 3.5 million people” on a “publicly accessible state computer server for a year or longer.” The information breach was “believed to be the most extensive ever in Texas and one of the largest of its kind nationally.” The Texas attorney general’s office and the FBI “launched a criminal investigation” into the breach.

[Jenny Hopkinson and Ian Kullgren, “Conway backs Combs for agriculture secretary,” Politico, 12/20/16 and Kelley Shannon, “Breach in Texas comptroller’s office exposes 3.5 million Social Security numbers, birth dates,” Dallas Morning News, 04/11]

Susan Combs said of the breach, “‘I deeply regret the exposure of the personal information that occurred and am angry that it happened.'”

[Will Weissert, “Texas Agency Mistakenly Posts Personal Info Online,” Associated Press, 04/12/11]

Susan Combs is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an organization that is heavily funded by Koch Industries and big oil companies.

Susan Combs is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

[“About Susan,” Susan Combs Website, accessed 03/02/17]

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has received at least $10,000 from ExxonMobil, $5,000 from ConocoPhillips, and $5,000 from Devon Energy, as well as funding from Koch Industries.

[Forrest Wilder, “Revealed: The Corporations and Billionaires that Fund the Texas Public Policy Foundation,” Texas Observer, 08/24/12]

Congressman Raúl Grijalva, in 2015, said “the Texas Public Policy Foundation…received $500,000 in funds from the Charles G. Koch Foundation and $2.5 million from Donors Trust, a think tank that advocates for limited government, from 2003 to 2010.”

[Gayathri Vaidyanathan, “Democrat behind probe of climate scientists targets former Texas official,” ClimateWire, 04/30/15]

Texas Public Policy Foundation “has a board of directors stacked with oil industry executives and GOP activists.”

[Steven Mufson, “Trump’s energy policy team includes climate change skeptic, free-market advocate,” Washington Post, 11/29/16]

Political Connections

Susan Combs has donated over $44,000 to Republican candidates and super PACs since 1993.

Since 1993, Susan Combs has contributed at least $44,902 to Republican candidates and super PACs, including: $500 to Joni Ernst, $1,000 to the Texas Farm Bureau Friends of Agriculture Fund, $1,602 to the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association PAC, $2,700 to Carly Fiorina’s 2016 presidential campaign, $5,000 to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, $1,000 to Rudy Giuliani’s 2000 Senate campaign and $2,300 Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign, and $2000 to the Republican National Committee.

[Political Moneyline Search for Susan Combs, CQ, accessed 03/02/17]

Susan Combs helped lead the Texas campaign for Carly Fiorina’s 2016 presidential campaign.

[Patrick Svitek, “Former Texas Comptroller Susan Combs to meet with Trump team,” Fort Worth Business Press, 12/20/16]

Current Activity

In 2015, Susan Combs’ Political Action Committee, Texans for Positive Economic Policy, took “unused campaign money” and paid $25,000 to a Washington, D.C., law firm to file a delisting petition for the golden-cheeked warbler.

The golden-cheeked warbler’s protected status “prohibits development on valuable land in and around Austin.” Right-wing groups the Reason Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation co-filed the brief with Combs’ super PAC. 

In June 2016, the Fish and Wildlife Service, part of the Interior Department, rejected Combs’ bid to delist the golden-cheeked warbler because the “petition ‘did not present substantial information that delisting is warranted.'” However, in June 2017, Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush “filed a lawsuit pursuing the dispute,” so the issue is ongoing.

[Eric Dexheimer, “How Texas fights endangered species protections, critter by critter,” Austin American-Statesman, 08/01/15, Eric Dexheimer, “Combs set to join Interior Department, an agency she often battled,” Austin American-Statesman, 07/12/17, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Press Release, 07/01/15, and Asher Price, “Golden-cheeked warbler to remain on endangered list,” Austin-American Statesman, 06/02/16]

Other Information

In the mid-1980s, Susan Combs helped form a group to protect “property rights” against a National Park proposal and the listing of a certain pond weed as an endangered species.

In the mid-1980s, landowners in Susan Combs’ area “learned that federal authorities were eyeing hundreds of thousands of acres in the Davis Mountains region for a new national park” and that there was “a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list a pond weed, found on area ranches, as an endangered species.” In response, “Ms. Combs and others… formed the Davis Mountains-Trans Pecos Heritage Association to protect what they saw as their property rights.” The national park idea ultimately “died” but the pond weed was listed.

[Steven H. Lee, “Tall in the Saddle,” The Dallas Morning News, 01/08/99]

Until 2016, Susan Combs was on the Board of Directors for the Texas Wildlife Association, a “property rights group” whose PAC has supported legislation to “thwart the Endangered Species Act and other environmental initiatives.” 

[“About Us,” Texas Wildlife Association, accessed 03/02/17, Eric Dexheimer, “How Texas fights endangered species protections, critter by critter,” Austin-American Statesman, 08/01/15, and “‘Local Control’- Texas Style, Part II:Special Favors for Special Interests,” Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, accessed 07/27/17]

Susan Combs opposed nominating Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court because he supported positions “taken by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Environmental Protection Agency.”

Susan Combs, in 2016, wrote an op-ed opposing the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court because of “a series of decisions he rendered in support of positions taken by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Environmental Protection Agency.”

[Susan Combs, “America Deserves a Better Choice to Replace Justice Scalia,” TownHall, 03/24/16]

Susan Combs once spoke on a panel with land transfer advocate Ken Ivory.

Susan Combs, in 2015, participated in a panel discussion with Ken Ivory. The panel was titled, “Halting the Feds at the State Line: States Learn to Command Respect” and was sponsored by the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Center for Tenth Amendment Action.

[“Texas Public Policy Foundation Policy Orientation for the Texas Legislature,” PolicyOrientation2015.sched.com, accessed 03/02/17]

Susan Combs once spoke on Endangered Species Act litigation at a forum put on by the conservative Federalist Society.

She took the position that settlements with private parties prevent “state participation or input” in decisions.

[Susan Combs, Justin Pidot, and William Yeatman, “‘Sue and Settle’ and the Endangered Species Act,” The Federalist Society, 02/18/15]

Susan Combs has attributed increased Texas sales tax revenue to the oil and natural gas sectors.  

In June 2012, Texas sales tax revenue increased 7.9 percent above where it had been the previous year. Susan Combs said that the increase “‘marks 26 consecutive months of sales tax growth'” and that “‘collections remain strong in the oil and natural gas-related sectors.'”

[James Aldridge, “Combs: Oil-and-gas growth driving Texas sales tax revenues,” Austin Business Journal, 06/06/12]

Susan Combs has been blamed by other Texas Republicans of having “left-leaning policies” and not being “a true conservative.”

In the 1990s while she was in the Texas legislature, Combs said “she was in favor of allowing most abortions,” but later as Texas Comptroller she changed her position “to a more anti-abortion stance.”

[Jenny Hopkinson and Ian Kullgren, “Conway backs Combs for agriculture secretary,” Politico, 12/20/16]

In 1990, Susan Combs “published a white-hot romance novel about a relationship between an NSA analyst and a spy that was repeatedly derided as pornographic during her 2006 campaign for agriculture commissioner.”

[Jenny Hopkinson and Ian Kullgren, “Conaway backs Combs for agriculture secretary,” Politico, 12/20/16]

Susan Combs, in 2014, made fun of western states, saying they are “boring, rectangular-shaped states” while Texas is the “niftiest-shaped” state.

[Susan Combs, “A Conversation with Susan Combs, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts,” YouTube, 07/23/14, 08:15]