At the Interior Department's headquarters in downtown Washington, Secretary Ryan Zinke has revived an arcane military ritual that no one can remember ever happening in the federal government.
A security staffer takes the elevator to the seventh floor, climbs the stairs to the roof and hoists a special secretarial flag whenever Zinke enters the building. When the secretary goes home for the day or travels, the flag -- a blue banner emblazoned with the agency's bison seal flanked by seven white stars representing the Interior bureaus -- comes down.
In Zinke's absence, the ritual is repeated to raise an equally obscure flag for Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt.
Responding this week to questions from The Washington Post, a spokeswoman for Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander, defended the Navy flag-flying tradition as "a major sign of transparency." [...]
Zinke, a Stetson-wearing former Montana congressman who has cultivated an image as a rugged outdoorsman, has come under a harsh spotlight in recent weeks for behavior criticized as extravagant for a public official. The agency's inspector general opened an investigation after he ran up bills for travel on chartered jets and mixed business with political appearances, sometimes accompanied by his wife, Lola. It's one of five probes underway of Cabinet secretaries' travel. [...]
Zinke rode to work on horseback on his first day in office and displays animal heads on his wood-paneled office walls. For a while, he kept a glass-case display of hunting knives but was asked to remove them because of security risks, according to people familiar with the decision.
He has commissioned commemorative coins with his name on them to give to staff and visitors, but the cost to taxpayers is unclear. Zinke's predecessors and some other Cabinet secretaries have coins bearing agency seals, but not personalized ones.
The flag ritual is unique in President Trump's administration. The White House does not raise the presidential flag when Trump alights at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. There is no Defense secretary's flag atop the Pentagon.