Reorganization, move west planned for BLM

Posted 7/18/19

The Bureau of Land Management is moving out West.

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced Tuesday that the agency is moving its headquarters out of Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, …

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Reorganization, move west planned for BLM


The Bureau of Land Management is moving out West.

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced Tuesday that the agency is moving its headquarters out of Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colorado.

“Under our proposal, every Western state will gain additional staff resources. This approach will play an invaluable role in serving the American people more efficiently while also advancing the Bureau of Land Management’s multiple-use mission,” Berhardt said in a statement.

When complete, the BLM, which oversees hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands, will be one of only four cabinet-level federal agencies headquartered outside of Washington, D.C. The others are the Social Security Administration (Baltimore); Centers for Disease Control (Atlanta); and Railroad Retirement Board (Chicago).

Wyoming’s representatives in Congress support the move. U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., applauded President Donald Trump and Bernhardt for their commitment to the West.

“Moving much of the BLM workforce to Colorado will go a long way towards ensuring that federal employees charged with managing our federal lands and resources are closer to and more aware of the issues and lives they are affecting. While this move is a step in the right direction, much work remains and I will continue to work with the Trump administration and with my colleagues in Congress to fight to return more authority to our state and local officials,” Cheney said.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., also welcomed the news, noting that most of the country’s public lands are in the West.

“This new location will put staff closer to the lands they manage and the people they serve,” Barrasso said. “It will also help make sure the right decisions are made for our natural resources, wildlife, and local communities.”

The selection of Grand Junction was called a cost-saving measure by Joe Balash, assistant secretary for land and minerals management. He said the government stands to save between $50 to $100 million over the next 20 years during a phone interview Tuesday. The savings comes in less travel from Washington to western locations, cheaper rent and smaller salaries based on lower pay levels outside of D.C., but the figures will also depend on how much space the agency must lease and relocation costs.

The announcement was met with protests from both politicians and conservation organizations. Rep. Raul Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the move has ulterior motives.

“This administration has been handing over public lands to fossil fuel companies at record speed, and this move is part of that agenda. Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt’s home town just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability,” Grijalva said. “The BLM officials based in Washington are here to work directly with Congress and their federal colleagues, and that function is going to take a permanent hit if this move goes forward. The agency will lose a lot of good people because of this move, and I suspect that’s the administration’s real goal here.”

The Sierra Club called the move was “theatrics, not good governance,” and just another part of the administration’s plan to turn public lands over to the energy industry.

“The Department has failed to provide details of restructuring plans, leaving it unclear how this move fits into a larger scheme,” said Athan Manuel, director of public lands protection for Sierra Club. “Spending millions to relocate when there are existing regional offices, billions in park maintenance backlog on the books, and costs still rolling in from Trump’s Independence Day extravagance is just foolhardy.” 

The move was first proposed by Ryan Zinke, former Secretary of the Interior, in a broader plan to reorganize the entire department. He made the proposal on his first day in office. After Zinke resigned amid ethics investigations, Bernhardt took up the proposal.

The plan calls for 27 positions to relocate to Grand Junction, including the director, deputy director and their attendant staff. More than 220 employees will move to BLM state offices and an additional 58 employees will relocate to other offices in Colorado. About 75 positions will be reallocated to other state offices and report to state directors while 61 employees will remain in Washington, D.C., at the headquarters of the Department of Interior.

The BLM employs about 10,000 people across the country, most in western states. Utah lobbied hard to have the headquarters in the Salt Lake City area. Wyoming was never considered in the move.