Report finds BLM did not adequately assess HQ move

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office found that the administration did not meet relevant standards and practices in moving the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management from Washington, D.C. to Colorado and relocating other workers to offices across the West.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources committee requested the report in November. In its investigation, the GAO compared the BLM’s processes to those outlined in a June 2018 GAO report that identified key practices for developing and implementing agency reforms, specifically (1) establishing goals and outcomes, (2) involving employees and key stakeholders, (3) using data and evidence, (4) managing and monitoring the reorganization efforts, and (5) strategic workforce planning.

The report determined that the BLM did not adequately involve employees and key stakeholders, and only partially addressed the other four areas of concern. The BLM failed to fully account for all costs associated with the move, establish specific performance measures or progress metrics, and disclose the methodology it used in choosing the location for its new headquarters. The report also determined that the agency failed to ensure transparency in the process.

The GAO also found that the BLM failed to adequately conduct strategic workforce planning. The agency identified backup staff for leadership positions vacant during the relocation and prioritized which vacancies were most important to fill, but did not address or develop any strategies to recruit applicants for these vacant positions.

According to the GAO report, 179 BLM staffers received orders to relocate, and 90 accepted their reassignments, while 81 either declined to move or left their position. These numbers differ from those recently provided by Secretary Bernhardt to the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. He indicated that only 80 staffers have relocated and that 94 retired or left the agency.

About half of the approximately 27 positions moved to the new Grand Junction headquarters are still vacant, according to recent reporting from E&E News. Only a few of the employees from the wildlife, fisheries and other natural resource programs are expected to accept their reassignments to various BLM offices across the West, and some have already moved to other BLM positions or agencies.

The BLM issued a statement in response to the report, defending its actions and its decision-making process. The “relocation of the Bureau’s headquarters to Grand Junction, Colorado and its employees to other Western states is common sense,” the statement read.  “The Bureau will be better positioned to better serve the American public through this relocation in executing its multiple use mission.”

The BLM’s move is part of a broader effort to reorganize the Department of the Interior, which began in 2017 by then-Secretary Ryan Zinke. In late 2019, The Wildlife Society expressed its concerns about the relocation to the BLM in a letter to Secretary Bernhardt. “We have several concerns about how this move will impact the agency, its professionals, and science-based wildlife conservation,” the letter read. “Thus far, the agency has done little to adequately address these concerns and potential challenges associated with the impending move.”

Header Image: A recent report from the Government Accountability Office raises questions about the BLM’s recent headquarters relocation. ©Bob Wick/BLM