Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency out west

Bureau of Land Management retirees fight plan to relocate agency out west
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A group of retired Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees are pushing the Senate to hold a hearing on the agency’s plan to move its headquarters to Colorado and scatter Washington-based staff in offices across the West.

The Public Lands Foundation, a 600-member group comprised of former BLM employees, asked leaders of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to hold a hearing on a relocation they say will “functionally dismantle” the agency.

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The Department of Interior announced in July that it would move 27 top BLM officials to a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., while nearly 300 other D.C.-based staffers would head to existing offices elsewhere in the country.

“This plan is so radical that we question whether it was studied or analyzed by non-political budget analysts or organization experts and whether BLM senior management were involved or consulted,” the group wrote to committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiHillicon Valley: Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal | Facebook reports millions of post takedowns | Microsoft shakes up privacy debate | Disney plus tops 10M sign-ups in first day Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban Federal inquiry opened into Google health data deal MORE (R-Alaska) and ranking member Sen. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinFormer coal exec Don Blankenship launches third-party presidential bid Centrist Democrats seize on state election wins to rail against Warren's agenda 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 (D-W.Va.). 

Interior has argued the move will get high-level career staff closer to the lands they manage, which are primarily located in the West.

But critics say it will break up staff by spreading them across the country, keeping them away from the corridors of power in D.C. while putting them closer to energy interests.

“We believe this plan will result in BLM serving only the short-term wants of locally powerful stakeholders to the detriment of all other constituents and the long term needs of public lands,” the group said in its letter

Representatives for the committee did not respond to request for comment.

The House Natural Resources Committee has already scheduled a hearing on the BLM move for September. 

If the move is carried out as planned, just 61 of BLM’s roughly 10,000 employees would remain in Washington, D.C.

“They say they’re trying to move decisions to the ground but most decisions are already made on the ground. Ninety-seven percent of employees are out in the field,” Ed Shepard, president of the Public Lands Foundation, told The Hill.

But the move will make it tougher for high-level staff to coordinate with other agencies that work on public lands that will remain in D.C., such as the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service, and other stakeholders like Congress and the Office of Management and Budget.

Major decisions will always be made in D.C., Shepard said, and now BLM experts will be sidelined.

“I don’t know if that’s the intent or not but it will be a result,” he said. “They’re just sort of scattering them all over.”

Interior views it differently.

“After careful consideration, analysis, and consultation with senior career BLM officials, Congress, and state and local partners during the past several months, the BLM determined that moving Washington headquarters staff West would bring decision-making authority closer to the lands it manages, strengthen organizational effectiveness, improve relationships with partners, facilitate more engagement with citizens, and maximize services to the American people," the agency said in a statement to The Hill. "We look forward to continuing to work with all of our partners and employees to make this a smooth and transparent transition.” 

Updated at 6:20 p.m.