BLM takes first step to move employees out West despite lawmaker objections

BLM takes first step to move employees out West despite lawmaker objections
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The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) took its first step in moving Washington-based staff out West, offering up vacant, but perhaps lower profile positions to staffers, despite objections from lawmakers.

The Department of Interior announced in July that it would leave just 61 BLM employees in the capital and move about 300 other Washington-based employees to offices closer to the public lands they manage.

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In an email to staff sent late Friday and obtained by The Hill, BLM head William Pendley encouraged staffers to apply for vacant positions that have been moved out West as part of the agency’s effort to relocate most of its D.C.-based staff.

Pendley’s email comes as some lawmakers on Friday asked the agency to suspend its relocation plans. Lawmakers have raised questions over whether such a move is even legal.

The email from Pendley says D.C.-based staff will be given “priority consideration” for vacant positions in order to “help retain Washington Office BLM employees.”

But those familiar with government pay grades say many of the positions offered up by Pendley are at a lower grade and may not pay as well as employees’ jobs in D.C.

Pendley’s email offers vacant positions at the GS-12 pay level and above, but many BLM Washington office employees are GS-13 and higher. Pay also varies by location, with employees in larger cities often earning more.

The vacant jobs are being offered up before BLM employees have been notified of where they are being transferred. 

“I read it as, ‘Your job is going West ... at a location as yet to be determined. However, if one of these other BLM jobs is attractive, you will get hiring/selection preference if you qualify,’” said Steve Ellis, who retired from BLM in 2016 as the deputy director for operations, the highest career-level position.

Ellis said in addition to possibly being lower paying jobs, the positions being offered by Pendley may offer work that is fundamentally different from roles Washington employees fill. 

“What they’re basically telling these people is we’re going to give you priority on GS-12 and above jobs in the field, but they may not be Washington office jobs,” he said. 

Washington office jobs are not always located directly in D.C, but they are usually policy-focused, he said.

“This BLM internal hiring control will remain in effect until qualified and interested [Washington Office] BLM employees find placement in western locations, or as otherwise determined by leadership, whichever may occur first,” Pendley wrote.

An Interior spokesman said internal hiring controls will remain in effect until Washington-based BLM employees find placement in western locations, or as otherwise determined by leadership, whichever occurs first.

"The Bureau of Land Management is moving ahead with a thoughtfully considered and carefully developed plan that will place the BLM's leadership closer to the lands and resources they manage," the spokesman said in an email to The Hill.

"It’s important to know that the excellent work that the BLM does is due entirely to the excellent men and women who work for the agency, both in Washington and in the field. While many Washington Office employees are from the West and will welcome a move back there, some may be interested in other locations other than those under discussion."

--This report was updated on Aug. 26 at 12:17 p.m.