Energy & Environment

Watchdog: Bureau of Land Management’s Trump-era headquarters move hurt diversity, effectiveness

Rebecca Beitsch

The Trump administration’s decision to move Bureau of Land Management headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colo., led to a sharp reduction in the number of Black employees and a surge in vacancies, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Thursday.

The move, which President Biden announced in September he would reverse, led to a vacancy increase of about 169 percent, and the departure of decisionmakers at the agency delayed new guidance or policy. The bureau also lacked a workforce strategy to address the issues created by the move, which the GAO recommended it create.

Vacancies saw a particularly sharp spike in July 2019, when the bureau announced it would relocate, the watchdog found. Between the announcement and the following March, they more than doubled at headquarters, from 121 to 326. As of May 2021, the bureau had reduced those to 142, which still stood at 17 percent higher than the time of the relocation announcement.

The relocation also led to an increase in details, or temporary reassignments to fill vacancies, according to the report, but senior officials at the bureau told GAO they were not fully briefed on its use of details.

Some Bureau of Land Management staff blamed increased use of details for negative impacts on their office’s performance, according to the report, citing effects such as reduced capacity at state offices.

“Without complete and reliable data on vacancies and details across the agency, BLM officials cannot make informed decisions about filling vacancies and initiating details to help the agency achieve its mission and goals,” the report states.

The move also led to a marked decrease in Black employees among the bureau’s already overwhelmingly white workforce, according to the report. Black headquarters staff declined by half between the 2019 announcement and January 2021, when it was complete. The report found a similar decrease in employees of Asian descent during the same period.

The issues listed in the report echo a warning issued by Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee. In a letter to then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Grijalva warned the move would cause an exodus of Black employees from the agency, which already had major diversity issues. This, he wrote, could create serious legal liabilities for the bureau and the Interior Department, although no lawsuits have been filed on the matter as of Thursday.

Tags Joe Biden

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