Media Whine: Move of Bureau of Land Management to Colorado from D.C. Decreased Agency Diversity

This March 11, 2020 photo provided by the Bureau of Land Management shows a storage yard north of Saco, Mont., for pipe that will be used in construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline near the U.S.-Canada border. A Canadian company said Monday, April 6, 2020, that it's started construction …
Al Nash/Bureau of Land Management via AP

A new report shows that former President Donald Trump’s decision to move the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) agency headquarters to Colorado from Washington, DC, decreased diversity at the agency.

Trump moved the bureaucratic agency that oversees vast swaths of federally-controlled lands, most of which are west of the Mississippi River, to Colorado during his presidency to ensure it would be more in touch with the people its decisions affect–a move that Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden, has since undone. Now, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report shows that the Trump move decreased racial diversity among staff at the agency.

Trump’s Department of Interior (DOI) made the strategic move in July of 2019, moving leadership and staff to both Colorado and Nevada instead of being based in D.C.

Now, media outlets like the Washington Post are whining about the decrease in racial diversity the move apparently caused, per a GAO report. The Post reported:

While black employees have not sued the bureau responsible for overseeing more than 245 million acres of public lands, a new Government Accountability Office report found that its relocation reduced the number of black employees, as the Post reported last month. Dismantling the Washington, D.C., office also drove out the bureau’s most experienced employees and created widespread staffing shortages, investigators concluded.

The Trump administration pushed ahead with the relocation to Grand Junction, Colo. — which is now being reversed by President Joe Biden. The move did dramatically worsen diversity, with more than half the Black employees at the headquarters retiring or quitting rather than accepting the move to Colorado.

The Post last month reported that the number of black employees within BLM headquarters dropped by more than half from the start of Trump’s term to the start of Biden’s. There were 126 Black employees in headquarters positions when Trump took office. When his term ended, that number had fallen to 55, according to department data. The total number of non-white headquarters employees fell from 202 to 116 between January 2017 and January 2021, a decline of 43 percent, according to department data.

The Post ignored the facts behind the BLM relocation, which Breitbart reported on at the time:

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.

Then-Interior Secretary David 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, back in 2019 too. 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.

Now, the new GAO report details just how impactful Trump’s move was to the agency. The report says that Trump’s move upended staffing at the agency, leaving wide scale vacancies and causing shortages of staff–something which, for critics of the federal government being too big and powerful, is probably a good thing. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said, in part:

After the Bureau of Land Management announced in July 2019 that it was relocating its headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, Colorado, many headquarters staff left the agency—increasing vacancies by about 169 percent.

Bureau staff said that the vacancies caused problems with completing their duties. For example, because key decision makers at headquarters left, there were delays in creating or clarifying guidance and policy.

We also found that the Bureau didn’t have a strategic workforce plan that could help address the issues resulting from these vacancies. We recommended that the Bureau develop an agency-wide strategic workforce plan.

The Fast Facts section of the GAO report does not include anything about race as it pertains to the staffing in Colorado, but it includes data about the racial makeup of BLM staff.

The GAO report stated its purpose, which did not include racial data.

“GAO was asked to review recent changes to BLM’s workforce and the agency’s workforce planning efforts. This report examines, for the period since 2016, (1) changes in BLM’s organizational structure, (2) changes in BLM’s workforce composition, and (3) the extent to which BLM has had a strategic workforce plan that supports its mission and goals,” the Fact Sheet said. “GAO analyzed BLM workforce data, information on organizational changes, and workforce planning documents from 2016 to 2021, and interviewed 13 BLM staff members from offices affected by organizational and workforce changes.”

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