Former BLM leadership opposes 'ill-advised move' of the agency

Former BLM leadership opposes 'ill-advised move' of the agency
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A group of former high-level officials within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is pushing the Department of the Interior to scrap its plans to move the agency out West.

“We are opposed to this proposal and feel it is a very ill-advised move, not only for BLM, but for the sound management of America’s public lands entrusted to the agency’s care,” the group wrote in a letter.

Interior announced in July that it would move roughly 300 Washington-based employees to various locations in the West, leaving just 61 people working for the agency in the nation's capital. 

Nearly all of the agency’s 10,000 person staff are already located in the Western states that house the majority of the nation’s public lands. Critics see the move as a way to create dysfunction among different departments filled with career track staffers and isolate them from corridors of power in D.C. 

While 27 of the relocated employees would go to a newly established headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., the rest would be scattered across existing BLM offices.

Congress and Interior have already butted heads over whether lawmakers have given their approval for the move. Interior responded to the complaints from two lawmakers by saying it may not move any BLM employees to their states. 

The latest opposition comes from a group of 30 top-level career staffers who once held some of the highest positions within BLM.

“There are no data, cost-benefit analyses, or other accounting that suggest these are problems needing to be 'fixed' by such a drastic and costly action,” the group wrote in the letter. “In fact, nearly all (97 percent) of the BLM employees are already located in approximately 120 towns throughout the West. They have been delegated authority to make land use decisions as they weigh public interest, resource conditions, cooperating agency concerns, and BLM policy.” 

The letter argues the move will cost the agency more money and force employees to spend more time on travel, citing the difficulty of getting to the smaller outpost of Grand Junction.

When asked for a response, Interior pointed to previous comments made by Secretary David Bernhardt.

"A meaningful realignment of our operations is not simply about where functions are performed; rather, it is rooted in how changes will better respond to the needs of the American people,” he said. “Shifting critical leadership positions and supporting staff to western states — where an overwhelming majority of federal lands are located — is not only a better management system, it is beneficial to the interest of the American public in these communities, cities, counties, and states."  

But many critics say moving more staff out West makes no meaningful difference when so many employees and decisions are already made outside of Washington.

“The western culture of BLM will not change with this proposal. Nor will the responsiveness to western clientele. Ninety-seven percent of BLM employees already live and work in the West and many in Washington, D.C. have lived in the West prior to moving to Washington, D.C. This is a massive disruption and expenditure of funds for no gain,” the former staffers wrote in their letter.