BLM's move to relocate employees draws fire from House Dems
- By Lia Russell
- Sep 10, 2019
The acting head of the Bureau of Land Management faced questions from House Democrats about a plan to move more than 300 jobs out of the Washington, D.C. headquarters and establish a new western headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado.
Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee said the move "appears to be nothing more than a poorly veiled attempt to dismantle a federal agency," at a Sept. 10 hearing.
"The Department of the Interior has done nothing to alleviate concerns that this move has been hastily planned, poorly researched and questionably motivated," Grijalva.
According to the plan, spelled out in the written testimony of BLM Acting Director William Perry Pendley, the agency plans to move at least 323 jobs out of Washington, D.C. as part of an agency reorganization.
The BLM director, deputy director other senior staff will be included in 27 posts to be relocated to the new Grand Junction headquarters. Additionally, 222 posts will be moved to BLM regional headquarters and other sites and 74 allocated to state office functions. The plan calls for about 60 employees to remain in Washington, D.C.
Pendley defended the move in his testimony, saying it will "save money in the long run and make us more effective as an organization."
"One of the things I think we will see [after the move] is a better relationship with our stakeholders," Pendley said. "We will have a better understanding of the investment in our communities."
Rep. Diana DeGette (D. Colo.) pointed that of the 323 jobs slated to move, only 177 are currently occupied and that Interior Dept. estimates project that 45 of those will retire or move to other jobs rather than move out west with the reorganization.
Pendley said "we have not been able to staff up" in Washington, D.C. and that he expects the jobs out west to be more attractive to potential applicants, but had no information or agency estimates on how those jobs will be filled. He also stated that the deparment had instituted a hiring freeze to preserve openings for BLM employees who want to stay in government but don't want to relocate out of the D.C.-area.
Later, Pendley said, "I've been mightily impressed with the professionalism, the expertise, the knowledge, the responsiveness of career people who work for the [BLM]. I don't want to lose a single one of them," Perry said. "I'm not trying to drain the swamp. I'm trying to make it more possible for them to do the job."
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) noted that already 97% of BLM's 9,000 employees work outside Washington, D.C. and said that emptying out the headquarters office would reduce institutional knowledge and collaboration with other agencies.
"With virtually nobody left in D.C,…with no leadership left one wonders how would the BLM coordinate with other agencies such as Fish and Wildlife, Department of Defense, U.S. Forest Service…in order to fulfill the your mission?" Holmes Norton asked.
Pendley said that in one week, BLM human resources officials will be meeting one-on-one with employees to discuss what specific positions will be relocated.
Lia Russell is a former staff writer and associate editor at FCW.