Dems push back on BLM relocation plan

Volcanic Tablelands Calif BLM Bishop Field Office employee. April 28, 2010 

The Volcanic Tablelands near Bishop, Calif. are under the management of the BLM

The Bureau of Land Management, a division of the Interior Department with 10,000 employees and a $1.2 billion annual budget, is looking to relocate its headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo.

The move comes largely at the behest of Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner. In a July 15 statement praising the planned BLM move, Gardner said "the problem with Washington is too many policy makers are far removed from the people they are there to serve." BLM manages land that is almost exclusively in the western United States, Garner reasoned, so the agency headquarters should be there as well.

According to publicly available Office of Personnel Management data, last updated in March 2018, 376 people work in BLM's D.C. headquarters. Most of these employees are in the GS13-GS15 pay range and 169 have 20 or more years of agency service – although some of these may have retired since the data was last made public.

Two Democratic appropriators with a big say in the Interior Department budget are trying to block the move.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), the chairwoman of the Appropriations subcommittee that writes Interior's budget, and Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member of the counterpart subcommittee in the Senate, wrote to assistant secretary of land and minerals management, Joseph Balash complaining that information provided to justify the move was "incomplete and superficial" and stating that the planned move "is not based on rigorous financial and organizational analysis."

Balash, whose resignation was announced in a tweet from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Aug. 20 – two days before the lawmakers' letter – was the official with authority over BLM. The bureau currently lacks a Senate-confirmed director. The recently named acting director – William Perry Pendley -- was criticized by the lawmakers as having "a long-established record of attacks on public lands." A recent Washington Post editorial described Pendley as "an anti-government zealot."

The lawmakers also criticized "apparent lack of real consultation with Bureau employees" and said the proposal to move "was deliberately created without regard to the experience and expertise of those employees." They also wondered why Grand Junction was chosen over a location that serves as a transportation hub, and noted that the move would reduce interaction between bureau officials and Congress and reduce transparency in the decision making process.

All in all, the lawmakers stated, the "the actions of the Department suggest something far more damaging: a deliberate effort to dismantle and weaken the Bureau." They're asking the administration to halt the reorganization until more stakeholders are allowed to weigh in.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is executive editor of FCW.

Before joining the editing team, Mazmanian was an FCW staff writer covering Congress, government-wide technology policy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Prior to joining FCW, Mazmanian was technology correspondent for National Journal and served in a variety of editorial roles at B2B news service SmartBrief. Mazmanian has contributed reviews and articles to the Washington Post, the Washington City Paper, Newsday, New York Press, Architect Magazine and other publications.

Click here for previous articles by Mazmanian. Connect with him on Twitter at @thisismaz.


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