The Department of Interior has decided to restore the HQ for the Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C. However, BLM will retain a presence in Grand Junction as its “principal office in the West”.

While we are disappointed to lose the headquarters, we appreciate the effort to allow for more influence and collaboration from the Western part of the country, where over 90% federal lands exist. Here is the story from The Daily Sentinel:

“Grand Junction is losing its briefly held honor as the home of the Bureau of Land Management’s national headquarters but will instead have the distinction of hosting its principal office in the West.

The Interior Department said Friday that the BLM will be restoring its national headquarters in Washington, D.C., and that its current presence in Grand Junction “will grow and expand as the bureau’s official Western headquarters.”

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the plans in a meeting with BLM employees Friday. The Interior Department said the plans are intended to rebuild and strengthen the agency ‘following years of transition and upheaval among the workforce. These changes, which will be done in coordination with Congress, will improve the function of the bureau, help provide clarity for the BLM’s more than 7,000 employees across the country, maintain and increase access for stakeholders, and enable the bureau to better serve the American public and fulfill its mission as the steward of nearly one-fifth of the nation’s public lands,’ Interior said in its release.

It said the new Western headquarters office ‘will reinforce Western perspectives in decision-making and have an important role to play in the bureau’s clean energy, outdoor recreation, conservation, and scientific missions, among other important work as a leadership center in the West.’

The Trump administration moved the headquarters to Grand Junction last year. It made the move under the argument that the agency’s leadership needed to be closer to the lands it manages and communities its decisions affect, and also cited cost savings from operating the office in the West rather than Washington.

Critics, who included current Interior Secretary Deb Haaland when she was a member of Congress, argued the move weakened the agency, in part due to the refusal of many employees in the former headquarters office in Washington to move to Grand Junction and other western locations where headquarters jobs were relocated.

The Biden administration says that of 328 positions moved from Washington, only 41 affected people relocated, with three moving to Grand Junction.

Some 40 headquarters positions were moved to Grand Junction, some of which have been filled with new hires.

The Interior Department said it plans to locate the BLM director and other key leadership positions in the national headquarters, ‘where they can ensure coordination with Congress, other federal agencies, and stakeholders that visit Washington, D.C. Additional senior personnel will operate from the Western headquarters, as part of the more than 95 percent of BLM employees that are already located outside of Washington, D.C.’

It said that aside from core leadership positions, it doesn’t plan to require employees to relocate.

Haaland said in the news release, ‘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. In addition, the BLM’s robust presence in Colorado and across the West will continue to grow.’

‘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.’

U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., and Gov. Jared Polis have supported keeping the headquarters in Grand Junction but voiced concern about the adequacy of the office’s current staffing.

Hickenlooper said in a statement, ‘A Western BLM Headquarters in Colorado will help ensure we have a fully functioning agency that understands the West. We’ll keep working to secure jobs in Grand Junction, including senior leadership positions. To succeed, the Western HQ must be a strong, permanent presence that engages the community and adds a Western perspective and value to the BLM’s mission.’

Bennet said in a statement, ‘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 told The Daily Sentinel on Friday, ‘We’re going to have the Western headquarters here, and it’s going to grow here. There are going to be a number of functions that it’s going to be responsible for, ranging from conservation to clean energy to outreach to Western groups.

‘It should work quite well. We are going to work very hard over the coming months to hold the administration accountable so we don’t have what happened with the last promises that were made, which drove a whole bunch of people out of the agency, and ending up with not very many people here in Grand Junction.’

He couldn’t say how many new jobs that would entail, only that it would be ‘fully staffed.’ Specifics regarding the job implications for Grand Junction or elsewhere as a result of the move weren’t available Friday from Interior.

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt, voiced questions about such specifics in a news release Friday condemning the decision to move the headquarters back east.

‘How many employees will move to D.C. and Grand Junction? What employees will move to D.C. and Grand Junction? Where will the employees that move to D.C and Grand Junction move from? When will impacted employees receive written notice? Given the lack of detail and information provided for this reprogramming, (congressional) appropriators should immediately reject this political, partisan move that isn’t in the best interest of taxpayers, the agency, or its employees,’ she said.

Last week, the House Natural Resources Committee agreed to a Boebert amendment to its fiscal-year 2022 budget bill that would bar use of funds made available in the budget from being used to close the Grand Junction headquarters. But a spokesperson for the Democratic majority on the committee said the amendment wouldn’t forbid the federal government from moving the headquarters, instead just preventing the money in the bill from being used for the move. He suggested other money could be available for such a move.

Boebert said Friday’s ‘rushed decision isn’t about helping Western communities. It is clearly a partisan attack on rural communities.’

She contends Hickenlooper and Bennet should have placed a hold on a presidential nominee such as Tracy-Stone Manning, who is nominated to be the BLM director, to get an assurance from the Biden administration that it would keep the headquarters in Grand Junction. Bennet has said that with drought and wildfire devastating the West, ‘we cannot waste any more time without a Senate-confirmed BLM director.’

Despite Boebert’s concerns about the announcement Friday, she added, ‘this could still ultimately be a win for Grand Junction and the West as a Western headquarters will remain in Grand Junction, more jobs will move to Grand Junction, and all the jobs that moved out West won’t be moved back to D.C.’

Polis on Friday viewed the announcement positively, saying in a statement, ‘The bottom line is that more senior BLM officials and decision-makers moving to the Grand Junction office is a good thing for Colorado and our country. The initial presence was far too small and now I’m finally hopeful that the office will grow.’”

The Daily Sentinel, September 18, 2021