The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) may be upping the number of employees housed in its new agency headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., acting director William Pendley told The Daily Sentinel last week.
Pendley also told the outlet that BLM was actually having trouble filling vacancies in the Washington office because many BLM employees don't want to move to D.C. — something current BLM staffers said is not the main driver of the agency’s many vacancies.
BLM’s controversial relocation would scatter nearly 300 Washington-based employees at offices across the West, including 27 at a new headquarters in Grand Junction, a town of 60,000 in Colorado’s western slope.
Pendley told the Sentinel, Grand Junction’s daily newspaper, that while 27 is still “the most solid number,” the agency may ultimately place more people there.
“Internally we think we may go as high as 40, and I think you can quote me on that," he said.
BLM employees who have been slated for reassignment are expected to receive their formal paperwork this week, and a number of staffers are leaving the agency rather than accept reassignments that would move them thousands of miles away.
Pendley said many BLM employees have not been wanting to take open jobs in D.C.
"It all goes to the cost of living, it goes to commuting time, it goes to proximity to recreational activities. People want to be here in the West," he said.
Pendley said a chief of staff position was vacant for months in D.C. but that the agency received 60 applications once it was listed in Grand Junction.
Those statements counter what many BLM employees say is a poor work environment where staffers are concerned about the general direction of the agency. They see the relocation as a way to undermine its mission.
Steve Ellis, who served 38 years with BLM before retiring from its highest level career position in 2016, told The Hill Perry’s not entirely wrong about it being difficult to recruit career staffers to D.C. for the reasons Perry mentions. But he and other BLM staff said the agency hasn’t been actively trying to fill them given the pending move.
“Obviously they’ve been thinking about moving them anyway. That rumor has been floating around for two years,” Ellis said, even though the move wasn’t officially announced until July. “If you’re interested in a job out in D.C. and hearing rumors you may have to turn right around and go back out West, why would you apply? So I think there’s some of that affect going on, too.”
A current BLM staffer told The Hill that the agency has “discouraged” hiring in D.C. under the Trump administration, avoiding filling full time jobs and instead relying on “detailers” to temporarily serve in various roles.
But beyond the vacancies the Trump administration inherited, many BLM employees have opted to leave the agency since the relocation was announced on July 16.
“There’s one or two going away parties a week,” the staffer said. “Since July 16 people have gotten aggressive about job hunting if they cannot move.”
The Department of the Interior, which oversees BLM, did not respond to request for comment.
Interior has argued the move will bring staff closer to the public lands they manage, but the relocation has been criticized for distancing staff from other key agencies and stakeholders in Washington as well as the restructuring of teams.
Documents obtained by The Hill in October show that BLM plans to split apart a key team that reviews the environmental effects of major projects on the nation’s public lands. That team will be spread across seven states.