Administration reconsiders BLM relocation

By Laura Bies

Calls are increasing for the BLM to return its headquarters to Washington, D.C. Credit: John Windsor/BLM

A position statement developed by a group of retirees is the latest development in a growing effort to bring the headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management, which is now in Colorado, back to Washington, D.C.

Last summer, the agency’s headquarters was moved from Washington, D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado, in an effort by the previous administration to bring the agency’s leadership closer geographically to the majority of BLM lands. The Wildlife Society expressed concerns about this move and its potential impact to the BLM’s wildlife program and employees in a letter in 2019.

The Public Lands Foundation, a nonprofit organization comprised mostly of former public lands employees, released a position statement last week calls for the return of BLM’s headquarters functions to Washington, D.C.

“The BLM is currently unable to conduct critical policy, budget and oversight work in coordination with the Department of the Interior, Congress, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and other federal agency leaders,” the statement reads. “This must be corrected if the nation’s largest federal land manager is to be at the table for key administration and departmental policy decisions that affect all public lands. If a well-designed and functioning BLM HQ organization is not returned to Washington, D.C., the long tradition of the BLM serving western constituents and all Americans is very much in jeopardy.” The Public Lands Foundation has been expressing concern about the move since 2019.

Currently, the BLM director, the deputy director of operations and five assistant directors who oversee major bureau programs are all assigned to the Grand Junction, Colo., office, but the Public Lands Foundation calls for them to be moved back to Washington. Many other staff positions were also moved west during the reorganization. While the Trump administration’s plan called for 328 employees to relocate to Grand Junction and other offices in the West, only about 40 actually did so last summer, with most employees opting to retire or find new positions outside the agency.

The Department of the Interior has been considering moving the agency’s headquarters back in recent months, although no public statements have been made. All BLM staff recently received a questionnaire aimed at gathering their input on a possible move back to Washington. The anonymous survey sought input on the location of headquarters, employee morale and other issues.

Nada Culver, BLM’s deputy director of policy and programs — who is currently acting as director — spoke to staff on the issue of relocation during an all-employee meeting earlier this spring.  She assured staff their input would be solicited and considered before any decision was made.

The issue also surfaced during Interior Secretary Haaland’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in February. In response to questions from Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) about her intentions regarding the relocation, she responded: “I think we need to first consider the well-being of the career staff there and take a good look at the issue. I don’t have any intention at this moment of changing things but I am not there [Interior] yet. If I am confirmed that will be an important issue to look at.” She also assured Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.) that she would engage in a dialogue with Western senators regarding the issue. She accepted also his invitation to visit the new headquarters before making a decision. Western lawmakers from across the political spectrum support keeping the BLM headquarters in Colorado.

The BLM does not yet have a new director. President Biden nominated Tracy Stone-Manning, with the National Wildlife Federation, to lead the BLM on April 22 but the Senate has not yet acted on that nomination.

Laura BiesLaura Bies is a government relations contractor and freelance writer for The Wildlife Society. She has a B.S. in Environmental Science and a law degree from George Washington University. Laura has worked with The Wildlife Society since 2005. Read more of Laura's articles.

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