Energy & Environment

Lawmaker demands answers from administration over land agency's headquarters relocation

The top Democrat on the House committee that oversees the Interior Department is demanding answers on the reasoning behind the forthcoming relocation of nearly 250 federal employees out West.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, sent two letters Thursday asking for answers about the Interior Department's (DOI) anticipated plan to ship the majority of its Washington, D.C.-based Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employees to new offices in the West.

In his letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Grijalva asks for the analysis and documents justifying the move, which critics argue could silence career employees by moving them further away from the political action in the nation's capital. 

"It is unacceptable that the DOI would begin relocating agency staff before sharing basic information with Congress justifying these moves," Grijalva wrote in his letter to Bernhardt.

"While DOI does have funding to complete at least part of these relocations, it does not have unlimited authority to restructure agencies in a manner that former BLM staff have suggested risk destroying the BLM entirely."

The BLM on Tuesday issued formal relocation notices to its Washington-based staff, giving them 30 days to accept the move or resign. They have until Dec. 12.

The lawmaker has long argued that Interior has slow-walked responses to various questions the committee has asked about the proposed move. He said in the letter Thursday that "DOI has failed on numerous occasions to respond to verbal and written requests for documents, instead sending already public or unrelated information." 

Grijalva has cited Interior's lack of response on the issue as a main reason for why the committee may soon be issuing a subpoena for answers.

Interior Department officials have maintained they've been responsive to all requests.

"Chairman Grijalva continues to perpetuate a false narrative about our congressionally funded and supported relocation efforts that will better serve the American people and the Bureau of Land Management's multiple-use mission," said Nick Goodwin, Interior spokesperson, in a statement to the Hill.

"We have given multiple briefings to committee members, testified before the committee and provided numerous supporting documents to answer all of their questions about the relocation. The BLM relocation is moving full speed ahead and to suggest the Department has not cooperated with Congress is completely disingenuous." 

In a separate letter Thursday, Grijalva also asked the Government Accountability Office to look into the process that Interior is using to move its employees, with a specific emphasis on how congressional funding is being used, how staff were consulted and whether their goals are actually in line with their stated reasoning.

This story has been updated.

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