Emails show BLM relocation could begin within five months

Emails show BLM relocation could begin within five months
© Greg Nash

The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) controversial move out west could begin within as little as five months, according to an email sent by the agency’s acting director William Pendley.

In an email to staff obtained by The Hill, Pendley said the agency would give relocation orders in the coming weeks, kicking off a process that would give employees 30 days to decide whether to move, and another 90 days to relocate to their new post.

“Our desire is to retain the knowledge, skills, and abilities of our experienced staff, but we recognize that your personal desires or situations may not be compatible with our decisions,” Pendley wrote. “We hope this interval will give you time to consider your options and your next steps.”

The Department of Interior announced in July that it would uproot nearly 300 Washington-based BLM staffers, scattering them to existing offices across the West while leaving 61 employees in D.C. to manage the nation’s public lands. 

The decision has been highly criticized by former BLM employees and conservationists who see it as a dismantling of the agency that could help further energy development on public lands.

Pendley’s email shows the move is proceeding despite pushback from lawmakers. Democrats have been particularly vocal in opposing the move, but both the House and Senate Interior appropriations bills for next year lack funding for the relocation. 

Pendley’s timeline also lands as the downsides of agency relocations are coming into sharper focus.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture similarly announced it would move its two research agencies to Kansas City, but internal memos obtained by The Hill showed one of those agencies, the Economic Research Service, was delaying or canceling many of its projects and reports after losing nearly 80 percent of its staff.  

Pendley said BLM would consider delayed move dates for employees with extenuating circumstances and also laid out options for those who do not wish to move, including retirement or help moving elsewhere within Interior.

“If you wish to continue working in the Washington, D.C., area, we will help you identify positions in the BLM or the Department,” he said.

BLM has also requested the ability to approve early retirement requests and give out “voluntary separation incentive payments” to those who leave the department.

But it’s not entirely clear how BLM will cover the costs of the incentive payments. Interior is planning to fund the move with about $5 million leftover in this year’s budget, but recently acknowledged that a lack of additional funding from Congress could jeopardize bonus payments to staffers. 

“The department intends to give BLM employees their legally authorized compensation and incentives, but ultimately it is up to Congress to decide if they want to deny these benefits to our employees," an Interior spokesperson said in September.