The Problems with the BLM Moving to the West

On November 12, 2019, more than 300 employees at the Bureau of Land Management’s Washington, D.C., headquarters received letters saying they had 30 days to decide whether to move to Grand Junction, Colorado, or other regional offices—and then 90 more to pack up and go. This was part of a plan, announced in July by Department of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, to move BLM headquarters to Grand Junction. Most of the 248.3 million acres managed by the agency are in the West, he argued. Why shouldn’t the agency be there too?

The plan is to site 27 top-level jobs in Grand Junction and scatter most of the roughly 360 current D.C.-based employees at existing regional offices. The agency has already rented office space in Grand Junction in a building that also houses Chevron’s regional office. Sixty-one jobs, mainly related to budget and Freedom of Information Act requests, would remain in D.C.

But the November letters were still a surprise. In the four months since the announcement, BLM employees say they’ve been kept in the dark about why the move is necessary, beyond the initial statement. In August, two congresswomen introduced legislation in the House to try to block the move. Congressional representatives, current and former BLM employees, and environmental watchdog groups think the plan is a way to move land management away from federal oversight, to loosen protection and regulation.

The vast majority of BLM staff, they argue—some 97 percent—already work in the field, including at the current Colorado state office, which is in the Denver suburbs. And those D.C. jobs are the ones that depend on interagency collaboration and policy development. The majority of those employees don’t want to move, and they can’t effectively do their jobs elsewhere. “It’s basically lopping the head off the animal.”

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