BLM relocation moves forward

By Laura Bies

The BLM plans to relocate its headquarters to Colorado, as part of a larger Interior Department reorganization. ©Bob Wick/BLM

The Interior is moving forward with plans announced in mid-July to move the Bureau of Land Management headquarters as well as relocate many wildlife staff.

Last month, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced plans to relocate the headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management from Washington, D.C. to Grand Junction, Colo. Most of the 350 positions currently based in Washington, D.C. office would be transferred to either Grand Junction or other offices throughout the West, with only 61 of the more than 10,000 BLM employees left in D.C. The wildlife staff will be relocated to Salt Lake City.

According to E&E News, BLM officials have indicated that Congressional appropriators had 30 days to object to the move, and while some members of Congress spoke out against the plan, no formal objections were filed. Those officials said Interior is therefore free to move forward with the plan and is proceeding accordingly.

Some members of the congressional appropriations committees have disagreed with that characterization, stating that they still have unanswered questions and concerns. Congress has been on recess for much of the time since Interior publicly announced the move in mid-July, complicating lawmakers’ ability to formally question it.

On August 20, Sens. Tom Udall (D-NM), Ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment, and Rep. Betty McCollum (R-Minn.), Chair of the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittees on Interior and the Environment, wrote to BLM regarding the proposed relocation, calling it “a deliberate effort to dismantle and weaken the bureau.”

The lawmakers raised several concerns about both the rushed planning process for the move and the lack of consultation with Congress and BLM employees. “It appears that the proposal to relocate the bureau headquarters is not based on rigorous financial and organization analysis, nor is it intended to increase the bureau’s accountability and improve management of our public lands,” the letter reads. “Instead, we are concerned that the proposal is designed to reduce the bureau’s effectiveness and relevance.”

The Public Lands Foundation, a non-governmental organization focused on public land management that counts many current and former BLM employees among its members, has spoken out more than once against the move. Soon after the plan was announced in late July, PLF wrote to leadership of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, stating that PLF “is strongly opposed to the proposal and feels it is imperative that the BLM Director, Assistant Directors, and multidisciplinary resource professionals remain in Washington, D.C. where Federal agency policy, budget, and oversight functions occur.”

Then, on Aug. 20, PLF wrote to those same lawmakers requesting that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hold a hearing to examine the relocation.

While that committee has not yet scheduled a hearing, the House Natural Resources Committee plans to discuss the headquarters relocation on September 10, according to reporting from E&E News.

In a letter to Sen. Murkowski (R-Alas.), the chair of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Joseph Balash, assistant Interior secretary for land and minerals management, said the plan is “demonstrably cost-effective, and will provide an increased presence closer to the resources BLM staff manages.” He also called the move “beneficial for the BLM’s employees and the constituents they serve and for every American taxpayer.”

The BLM headquarters move is part of a larger effort to reorganize the Department of Interior, launched by former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in 2017. However, the lack of permanent, Senate-confirmed leadership at the Department of Interior could hamper BLM’s move. The agency still does not have a director and assistant secretary Balash, who has played a lead role in the BLM relocation, is retiring at the end of the August.

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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