BLM fails to notify state offices of relocation plans, leaving 300 staffers unsure where they'll be sent

BLM fails to notify state offices of relocation plans, leaving 300 staffers unsure where they'll be sent
© Greg Nash

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) missed its deadline to tell nearly 300 Washington-based employees where they will be reassigned as the agency moves out West, with leaders telling staff that higher-ups failed to formally notify state offices of the move.

The Department of the Interior announced in July that it would be moving all but 61 of its Washington BLM staff to various existing offices out West, telling staff they would be notified where they will be moving by Sept. 17.

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But those letters didn’t arrive Tuesday, and though news of the move has been public for months, employees were told agency leaders have yet to formally notify the directors of state offices that Washington-based employees would be relocating to their offices.

“The state directors were never notified in regards to the BLM staff relocating to their offices. They never contacted any of the state directors to tell them this was happening here in the Washington office,” one BLM employee said. 

A spokesman for Interior confirmed that employees would not receive their relocation letters Tuesday but would not respond to additional questions about the failure to notify the bureau's 11 Western state directors. 

Critics of the move have argued that it has been poorly planned and implemented. Many see it as a way to dismantle the agency that manages the nation’s public lands and their resources, decentralizing its operations by spreading policy staffers across different offices.

A July 16 memo identified 296 employees slated to move to various offices out West. Internal documents from July 15 reviewed by The Hill showed Interior planned to move congressional affairs staff 2,600 miles away to Reno, Nevada, while an international affairs specialist would be placed in Salt Lake City. 

But Interior has not released details beyond that July 16 memo, and BLM acting head William Pendley told lawmakers at a hearing last week they were still nailing down final details and would notify employees on Sept. 17. Employees would then have to agree to move before receiving a formal notice of their relocation. 

“The Department of the Interior has done nothing to alleviate concerns that this move has been hastily planned, poorly researched and questionably motivated,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told Pendley at the hearing. “There is no doubt this plan fits this administration’s pattern of trying to sell out our environment and natural resources.”

There have been some efforts to unionize among BLM staff, and the National Treasury Employees Union met with some BLM employees last week.

“This is the beginning of what could be a long process before any representation election is conducted, but these initial conversations underscored the upheaval facing the civil servants at BLM headquarters. They, like federal employees across government, are committed to the mission of their agency and concerned about its future,” the union said in a statement to The Hill.

Pendley also notified employees last week that those who move will get a one-time bonus of 25 percent of their pay as well as covering the cost of a house-hunting trip or covering the first 60 days of housing expenses.

Interior has said the move will help the agency save money and will put BLM employees closer to the lands they manage.