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Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Interior

As Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Todd Willens “work[s] closely” with Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt.

Todd Willens, who has a well-documented history of opposing the Endangered Species Act, began his career on Capitol Hill working in the office of notorious anti-environmentalist Representative Richard Pombo, where he held various positions up to Legislative Director. In 2000, Willens went through the revolving door to work as the “lead lobbyist” for Feld Entertainment, where he “lobbied against animal welfare-rules.” In 2003, Willens returned to Capitol Hill to work as senior policy director of the House Natural Resources Committee. Starting in August 2006, Willens served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for George W. Bush’s Interior Department, where he fought against endangered species listings for wolves and manatees and had the Everglades removed from a United Nations list of endangered sites. After being accused “of interfering in decisions on protecting endangered species,” Willens left Interior, and went to work as a lobbyist at Washington Strategies, where he promptly began lobbying the Interior Department he had just left. Starting in January 2009, Willens began to work as a lobbyist at Vitello Consulting, a “full-service government affairs consulting firm” that assists clients whose “interests intersect with the United States Congress, federal agencies, foreign governments, and international regulatory organizations,” and that boasts clients including the Barona Band of Mission Indians, the Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, the Rare Species Fund, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, the South Carolina Aquarium, and the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, among others. From 2010 to 2017, he served as Chief of Staff for Representative Steve Pearce.

Sources: [Department of the Interior, Press Release, 07/12/17, Greg Lennes, “Letter: Lobbyists for Pearce,” Deming Headlight, 12/21/11, LinkedIn Profile for Todd Willens, accessed 08/28/17, Legistorm Profile for Todd Willens, accessed 08/28/17, Josh Harkinson, “Richard Pombo Rides Again!Mother Jones, 01/06/10, Rocky Barker and Roger Phillips, “Feds to give states control of wolves; Ending endangered species protection could give hunters a shot at predators by 2008,” Idaho Statesman, 12/20/08, “Manatee Protections to be Cut Under Bush Plan,” The CVN, 04/01/07, Alex Daugherty, “Official who nixed Everglades from UN endangered-site list gets Trump job,” Miami Herald, 07/11/17, City of Gillette, Wyoming 2008 Second Quarter Report, United States Senate Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, accessed 08/28/17, North Central Montana Regional Water Authority 2008 First Quarter Report, United States Senate Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, accessed 08/28/17, “About,” Vitello Consulting, accessed 08/29/17, and “Our Clients,” Vitello Consulting, accessed 08/29/17]

Special Interests

Jack Abramoff (Political Extremism)

Willens was part of a "group of congressional staffers who visited the Mariana Islands on a trip paid by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff."

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Ducks Unlimited (Protecting Public Lands)

As a congressional staffer, Willens went on a trip paid for by Ducks Unlimited, the "world's largest and most effective private waterfowl and wetlands conservation organization."

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also connected to:

Safari Club International (Resource Development on Public Lands)

As a congressional staffer, Willens went on a trip paid for by SCI, an organization that has ties to the oil and gas industry and that is "behind the killings of tens of thousands of animals, including those on the brink of extinction.

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American Forest Resource Council (Resource Development on Public Lands)

As a congressional staffer, Willens went on a trip paid for by the American Forest Resource Council, a trade organization for western timber companies that has spent $3.7 million lobbying the federal government.

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also connected to:

Northern California Power Agency (Resource Development on Public Lands)

As a congressional staffer, Willens went on a trip paid for by NCPA, a 16-member not-for-profit agency of publicly owned entities that "operates and maintains a fleet of power plants" and has a "mix of geothermal, hydroelectric, and natural gas resources."

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also connected to:

Background Information

Previous Employers

Representative Richard Pombo, United States House of Representatives

Feld Entertainment Inc. 

House Natural Resources Committee, United States House of Representatives

United States Department of the Interior

Mariposa Group

Washington Strategies LLC 

Vitello Consulting

VC International 

Representative Steve Pearce, United States House of Representatives

Additional Background on Employers of Note:

When he worked for Richard Pombo, Todd “Willens aided the former California congressman in his attempts to undermine the Endangered Species Act by promoting private property rights above all.”

[Katharine Mieszkowski, “No bears for oil,” Salon, 01/17/08]

Todd Willens lobbied against animal welfare-rules.

Todd Willens, from January 2000 to January 2002, was the “lead lobbyist” for Feld Entertainment, which at the time was the “owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.” While at Feld Entertainment, Willens “lobbied against animal-welfare rules.”

[LinkedIn Profile for Todd Willens, accessed 08/28/17, Adam Satarino, “People on the Move,” CQ, 05/15/03, and Keturah Hetrick, “Endangered Species Act foe takes top Interior post,” Legistorm, 07/06/17]

When he worked for the Bush administration’s Interior Department, Todd Willens fought against endangered species listings for wolves and manatees, and also, contrary to the National Park Service’s recommendation, had the Everglades removed from a United Nations list of endangered sites.

In 2006, Todd Willens, when he was “assistant Interior Secretary for fish, wildlife and parks,” sought to “remove wolves from the endangered species list in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.”

[Rocky Barker and Roger Phillips, “Feds to give states control of wolves; Ending endangered species protection could give hunters a shot at predators by 2008,” Idaho Statesman, 12/20/08]

In 2007, when he was a “newly appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks,” Todd Willens led “an effort to downgrade protection for manatees.” Willens “shepherd[ed]” a plan to “‘downlist'” the [Florida] manatee from its… ‘endangered’ status to ‘threatened’ under the Federal Endangered Species Act.”

[Editorial Board, “Stop Stalking Sea Cows,” Palm Beach Post, 04/13/07, and “Manatee Protections to be Cut Under Bush Plan,” The CVN, 04/01/07]

In 2007, Todd Willens “recommended that UNESCO remove the Everglades” from “a United Nations list of endangered sites.” Willens told the U.N. World Heritage Committee “that the National Park Service wanted the Glades taken off the endangered list…. despite a recommendation to the contrary from the Park Service.”

The United Nations “acquiesced to Willens’ request, and the Everglades was removed” from the UN list of endangered sites. Florida Senator Bill Nelson “called a hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee… to investigate” Willens’ removal of Everglades from a list of endangered sites.

[John Heilprin, “Everglades Decision Criticized,” Associated Press, 08/03/07, Alex Daugherty, “Official who nixed Everglades from UN endangered-site list gets Trump job,” Miami Herald, 07/11/17, and Editorial, “Highly endangered; Everglades loses a layer of protection,” Bradenton Herald, 08/08/07]

While he worked in George W. Bush’s Interior Department, Todd Willens was accused “of interfering in decisions on protecting endangered species.”

Julie MacDonald resigned from the Interior Department “in May 2007, after Interior’s inspector general found that she may have skewed 11 ESA rules for the benefit of oil and natural gas producers and other industry sectors.” In 2008, “after investigating a Fish and Wildlife review of McDonald’s decisions,” the Government Accountability Office “accused” Willens “of interfering in decisions on protecting endangered species.” Willens “denied the allegation, and left the Interior Department of his [own] accord later in 2008.”

[Derek Sands, “Political tampering with ESA decisions may be more widespread, GAO says,” Inside Energy, 05/26/08, and Alex Daugherty, “Official who nixed Everglades from UN endangered-site list gets Trump job,” Miami Herald, 07/11/17]

Todd Willens lobbied the Department of the Interior immediately after he stopped working for the Department of the Interior.

In 2008 Todd Willens, while at Washington Strategies LLC, lobbied the Department of the Interior on behalf of the City of Gillette, Wyoming and on behalf of the North Central Montana Regional Water Authority.

[City of Gillette, Wyoming 2008 Second Quarter Report, United States Senate Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, accessed 08/28/17, and North Central Montana Regional Water Authority 2008 First Quarter Report, United States Senate Lobbying Disclosure Act Database, accessed 08/28/17]

Political Connections

Todd Willens, since 2001, has donated at least $3,000 to Republican politicians.

[Political Moneyline Search for Todd Willens, CQ, accessed 08/29/17]

Other Information

In 1997, Todd Willens “was among a group of congressional staffers who visited the Mariana Islands on a trip paid by disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.”

[John Heilprin, “Everglades Decision Criticized,” Associated Press, 08/03/07 and Erica Werner, “AP Exclusive: Records suggest Abramoff, Pombo lobbying contacts,” Associated Press, 10/10/06]

Todd Willens is married to Morna Willens, who was Vice President of lobbying firm Glover Park Group and who has lobbied on behalf of Fuels America, “a coalition of organizations committed to protecting America’s Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and promoting homegrown biofuels.”

[Legistorm Profile for Morna Willens, accessed 08/28/17, and “About,” Fuels America, accessed 08/28/17]