Move of BLM headquarters to Colorado still under review
- By Natalie Alms
- Jul 27, 2021
Image credit: Joshua Rainey Photography / Shutterstock.com
Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, told lawmakers on July 27 that an ongoing review of the controversial 2019 relocation of the Bureau of Land Management headquarters from Washington, D.C. to Grand Junction, Colo. needs to wrap up.
"We need to come to a decision fairly soon," she said of the department's review during a hearing held by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Haaland visited the new headquarters July 23. During the trip, she met with BLM staff in person and remotely at the new headquarters, she said. She also received more comments from staff via email after leaving.
"We're looking at all of those and sort of assessing all of the comments that we heard," she said. Finalizing the review will allow employees "to be able to know and understand what their task at hand is."
The transfer was opposed by Democratic appropriators at the time, although Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and former Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) supported the move, as does Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.). Trump officials said that it was intended to bring BLM officials closer to the land they manage. Opponents said it was intended to undermine the agency by pressuring longtime career officials with roots in the National Capital Region to quit.
The reorganization of BLM not only moved the headquarters, but also moved "moved functions, positions and employees to locations across the West," according to May DOI budget justification documents for fiscal year 2022.
Over 80% of affected employees didn't relocate, the document states. Overall, DOI's staffing declined by 6.7% from 2017 to 2020, a decrease the department is looking to reverse.
During the Tuesday hearing, Hickenlooper said of Haaland's visit that he "got the sense that you saw and heard clearly the long term value that having a Western presence holds for the BLM by making sure that the employees are close to the land they manage … and I think you heard clearly the meaning that has, the importance of that to the local community."
The review "is focused on understanding what impacts the reorganization has had on BLM operations and employees, assessing the impact of the significant loss of experience, and identifying needed actions to improve bureau capacity," the budget document states.
"BLM plans to engage stakeholders – starting with bureau employees themselves – and evaluate options to provide response service to BLM's customers in the West, coordinate with lawmakers and other partners in Washington, D.C., and ensure integrated leadership across the agency," it says.
Natalie Alms is a staff writer at FCW covering the federal workforce. She is a recent graduate of Wake Forest University and has written for the Salisbury (N.C.) Post. Connect with Natalie on Twitter at @AlmsNatalie.