Interior seeks millions to research BLM move

Efforts are still afoot to move the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to a western state, and the U.S. Department of Interior is asking Congress to let it spend $10.5 million in the next fiscal year to explore the idea.

Senators and a congressmen from states including Utah, Idaho and Colorado are jockeying for their states to be considered for the Interior Department’s new home.

That’s according to written testimony Interior Secretary David Bernhardt provided last week to the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, both Republicans, welcomed the further affirmation of the department’s plans to move the BLM west, as they continue to hope it ends up being headquartered in Grand Junction, according to a report in the Grand Junction Sentinel.

In Bernhardt’s written testimony, he said the Interior Department is asking for $10.5 million for relocation efforts and also for what is called “Regional Stand Up,” an apparent reference to the department’s work consolidating many of its bureaus’ operations into 12 unified regions. It’s also asking for a separate $12.1 million specifically for implementation of that unified-region approach.

“In 2019, we are analyzing options to relocate more operations out West,” Bernhardt wrote, “… where the preponderance of bureau assets and acres are located, to better serve our customers. As part of the planning, we are considering relative cost, accessibility, and the specific functions where it makes sense to be closer to field assets.”

When orally addressing the subcommittee, Bernhardt referred to comments made in 1936 by U.S. senators when authorizing creation of the Interior deputy secretary position, demanding that the secretary or deputy secretary spend more than half their time in the West. “So I think this is an issue that we’ve thought about for a long time. And so I think there’s room to think and continue to think, and interest in moving certain headquarters elements west and we want to do that,” the Interior secretary said.

Bernhardt grew up on the Western Slope of Colorado in Rifle.

According to the Sentinel story, Interior Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Cameron on April 30 said in written testimony to a House panel that a U.S. Geological Survey headquarters relocation planning effort is focused on the Denver area, and Interior is exploring possible locations for a future BLM headquarters and hopes to decide on a city later this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, offered a reminder during last week’s hearing that other states also are interested in becoming the BLM headquarters’ new home.

“If you’re going to move BLM headquarters, Utah’s a great place,” Stewart told Bernhardt with a slight smile. “We’d certainly welcome you and we can argue the benefits of that but Mr. Simpson would agree with me, I’m sure,” Stewart said. He was teasing his Republican colleague on the subcommittee, Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho.

Colorado Congressman Tipton said in a news release, “Since most BLM lands are located in Western states, moving the BLM closer is just common sense. I am thankful for the secretary’s consideration and determination to make the relocation a reality. Ideally, we’d like to see the location in Grand Junction, but having the federal decision-making process brought closer to those it affects will ultimately benefit all who cherish public lands and responsible multiple use.”

Fellow Colorado Senator Gardner said in the same release, “The Interior Department’s confirmation that they plan to move ahead with their plans to relocate the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to the West is great news.”