Interior reverses Trump, moves BLM headquarters back to DC
The Interior Department will restore the Washington, D.C., headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management, which was moved to Colorado during the Trump administration, while maintaining the Colorado office as its “Western headquarters.”
The department announced its decision on the controversial move in a statement on Friday.
The Trump administration shifted its headquarters from Washington to Grand Junction, Colo., in what critics saw as an attempt to drive out career officials. The Trump administration had argued that it was putting officials closer to the land that they managed.
The move was initially announced in 2019 and completed last year.
Data released by the Biden administration earlier this year indicated that more than 87 percent of the agency’s employees based in D.C. left the agency after the Trump administration’s announcement that it would relocate the office.
Just 41 agreed to move while 287 either retired or left the agency by the end of last year.
The department said Friday that just three people moved to Grand Junction.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement that it was important for the bureau to have a D.C. presence but also said that its presence in Colorado would “continue to grow.”
“There’s no doubt that the BLM should have a leadership presence in Washington, D.C. – like all the other land management agencies – to ensure that it has access to the policy-, budget-, and decision-making levers to best carry out its mission,” Haaland said.
“The past several years have been incredibly disruptive to the organization, to our public servants, and to their families. As we move forward, my priority is to revitalize and rebuild the BLM so that it can meet the pressing challenges of our time, and to look out for our employees’ well-being,” she added.
According to the department, the bureau director and other “key leadership positions” will be in the Washington headquarters, while “additional senior personnel” would work out West.
The announcement did not provide specifics as to who fell into each category, but said that except for “core leadership positions,” it does not plan to require any employees to relocate.
The Biden administration argued on Friday that the Trump administration’s decision “led to a significant loss of institutional memory and talent.”
The relocation plans wouldn’t have just moved people to Colorado. Documents obtained by The Hill in 2019 showed that Washington-based employees were also slated to move to places including Reno, Nevada and Salt Lake City, Utah.
It was also expected to split up a team charged with assessing environmental impacts of major projects on the nation’s public lands to be split up and spread across seven states.
And a document obtained by The Hill showed that the cost-benefit analysis for the decision provided to lawmakers by the department was just two pages long and didn’t explain how many employees were expected to actually move or how much it would cost to move them. That analysis estimated that the relocation would save $123 million over 20 years.
The politics of the decision don’t fall neatly along party lines, as some Colorado Democrats favored the move out West. One of them, Sen. Michael Bennet, had a mixed reaction to the news on Friday.
“While I am disappointed that the national headquarters will be in Washington, I believe establishing and growing a permanent BLM Western Headquarters in Grand Junction should be a very positive development,” he said in a statement.
“In the coming months, I will hold the Administration accountable to ensure that the BLM Western Headquarters is permanent, fully staffed, and informed by the voices of the Rocky Mountain West — after the last administration failed to deliver on that promise,” he added.
Many Republicans, meanwhile, blasted the decision.
“The Biden administration’s answer for everything is to double the size of government,” said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) in a statement.
“The Bureau of Land Management doesn’t need two headquarters,” added Barrasso, who’s the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “The single headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management belongs in the West, closer to the resources it manages and the people it serves.”
—Updated at 5 p.m.