Trump’s Bureau of Land Management Leaving Swamp for Western Land It Oversees

Western Ranch Land
Robyn BeckROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

The Department of Interior (DOI) announced last week that it will be moving the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquarters to Colorado, and a number of senior management staffers will be located in 11 Western states, including 50 people in Nevada.

“A meaningful realignment of our operations is not simply about where functions are performed; rather, it is rooted in how changes will better respond to the needs of the American people,” Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt said in a statement. “Under our proposal, every Western state will gain additional staff resources.”

Bernhardt said:

This approach will play an invaluable role in serving the American people more efficiently while also advancing the Bureau of Land Management’s multiple-use mission. Shifting critical leadership positions and supporting staff to western states — where an overwhelming majority of federal lands are located — is not only a better management system, it is beneficial to the interest of the American public in these communities, cities, counties, and states.

Nevada Columnist Thomas Mitchell wrote about the move in a column published in the Sparks Tribune in Sparks, Nevada, on Wednesday. He praised the move, which includes the decision to put BLM’s headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado:

While the agency estimates the move could save as much $100 million over the next 20 years due to lower office space costs and lower cost-of-living differentials for federal employees, a more important and significant aspect may be putting the bureaucrats who manage 388,000 square miles of federal public land in 12 Western states closer to the people who are affected by their decisions. Human nature dictates it is harder to look across your desk at a neighbor and say no to a profitable endeavor than it is from 2,000 miles away.

In a letter to Congress, Joseph Balash, an assistant secretary of the Interior, said about 300 jobs are to be moved West in the coming year and about 60 positions will remain in Washington to handle budget and policy issues and work with Congress. The BLM already has about 10,000 jobs in the West.

Grand Junction would get less than 30 of the 85 new jobs slated for Colorado, with most of the rest residing in suburban Denver, where the federal government already has a number of regional offices. In addition to Nevada’s 50 new jobs, Utah is to add 45 and Arizona and New Mexico about 40 each.

Mitchell noted in his column that some Democrats oppose the move, which was initiated by former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, “because it lessens their sway.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) said in the column:

This administration has been handing over public lands to fossil fuel companies at record speed, and this move is part of that agenda. Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt’s home town just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability.

The BLM officials based in Washington are here to work directly with Congress and their federal colleagues, and that function is going to take a permanent hit if this move goes forward. The agency will lose a lot of good people because of this move, and I suspect that’s the administration’s real goal here.

Bernhardt is from Rifle, Colorado, about 60 miles east of Grand Junction, Mitchell noted in his column.

But others are in favor of the move, Mitchell said in his column, quoting sources from an Associated Press (AP) article.

“The whole focus will be on the West, where it should be,” Kathleen Sgamma, president of the oil industry trade group Western Energy Alliance said. “Right now, it’s easy to sit in D.C. and deny a rancher a grazing permit. It’s not so easy when he’s sitting across the table from you.”

“Having the BLM out here and closer to the ground, we’re going to get better decisions,” Mike Noel, a rancher, and former Utah state lawmaker said. “There’s a different philosophy out here than there is in Washington, DC.”

“It is harder to say no to your neighbor, and that is a good thing,” Mitchell wrote. “The move is a welcomed effort to better serve those most impacted by BLM decisions.”

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