Bureau of Land Management to move headquarters from DC to Colorado

The Trump administration plans to relocate the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from Washington, D.C., to Colorado, according to two lawmakers.

The reorganization, first considered under former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: House Science Committee hits EPA with subpoenas | California sues EPA over Trump revoking emissions waiver | Interior disbands board that floated privatization at national parks Interior disbands advisory board that floated privatization at national parks Overnight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics MORE, is aimed at putting more agency officials closer to the lands they manage out West, though critics have questioned moving tenured policy officials far from the nation's capital. 

Currently only about 4 percent of BLM employees live in D.C., but the proposal would shrink that number even further, leaving just 60 of the nearly 400 BLM employees in the nation’s capital, according to a letter from Interior to a Republican lawmaker dated Tuesday, obtained by The Hill.

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Just 27 employees will be moved to the new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., with the rest divided among the western states of Utah, Nevada and other existing local offices, according to the document.

Since BLM has nearly 10,000 employees, the reorganization plans would effectively move the agency entirely out of D.C.

Colorado Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Democrats spend big to put Senate in play Republicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial MORE (R) confirmed the headquarters move on Monday, calling it a “significant win” for his state.

“This means that people will be able to have greater say, greater impact on public lands decisions that affect their community,” Gardner said in a video he tweeted.

“This is an effort I started years ago under the Obama administration so that we could have the policymakers in Washington closer to the people that are most impacted by the decisions that Washington makes.”

The Department of Interior, which oversees BLM, did not respond to requests for comment or details about the plan. The agency is expected to make an announcement later Tuesday.

Democratic lawmakers criticized the administration for failing to alert them earlier of the planned move, which is expected to affect BLM managers and other agency officials.

“This administration has been handing over public lands to fossil fuel companies at record speed, and this move is part of that agenda. Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt’s home town just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability,” Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

“The BLM officials based in Washington are here to work directly with Congress and their federal colleagues, and that function is going to take a permanent hit if this move goes forward. The agency will lose a lot of good people because of this move, and I suspect that’s the administration’s real goal here.”

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt often failed to provide any details about the move when pushed by lawmakers, typically saying the decision began under Zinke and was still being reviewed. Bernhardt is originally from Rifle, Colo., about 60 miles east of Grand Junction.

“We’ve been asking questions for more than a year about what they’re planning, who and what infrastructure they’re moving, how much this will cost, how they justify it, what impacts they expect on agency missions, etc,” said a senior Democratic staffer on the committee.

“They’ve refused to answer any of those questions.”

However, it’s unclear how much approval from Congress is necessary for the administration to continue with its plans.

The BLM headquarters move could be the first of many reorganizational plans within the Department of Interior. Zinke first announced in January 2018 plans to overhaul the department, arguing that too many bureaucrats lead from Washington rather than the areas they are regulating. His plan, announced last August, would reorganize management of the department through 12 ecosystem and watershed boundaries rather than state lines in what will be called Unified Regions

Grand Junction sits outside of Colorado National Monument preserves, which spills across the western border into Utah. The town has an estimated population of a little over 63,000. Most of the area surrounding Grand Junction is public land managed by BLM. The town already has a large percentage of government employment, ranging from the school district to the county and city, according to a report from Grand Junction.

The decision to move West comes as other agencies are also planning to relocate parts of their teams. The Environmental Protection Agency has moved employees around several of its offices outside of D.C., and the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave more than 500 employees until Monday to decide whether to move to the Kansas City area. 

Updated at 2:41 p.m.