Debate continues over location of BLM HQ

Given the fact that 97 percent of Bureau of Land Management employees work outside of the agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, some people are wondering about the prudence of moving those offices to a western state.

The Department of Interior recently asked Congress for $10.5 million in the next fiscal year to pursue relocation efforts, plus an additional $12.1 million to consolidate bureaus into 12 regions across the West.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in his written statement during the appropriations hearing that the DOI is “considering relative cost, accessibility and the specific functions where it makes sense to be closer to field assets.” The BLM declined to comment.

Critics of efforts to relocate the agency to the Western United States, however, say the current headquarters is everything that it ought to be: unremarkable, unassuming — and centrally located, according to a story in the High Country News.

“It would be a colossal waste of resources and costly to taxpayers to move the headquarters out of D.C.,” said Phil Hanceford, conservation director for The Wilderness Society, a nonprofit land conservation organization.

The BLM is one of over 50 federal buildings in the nation’s capital, according to the U.S. General Services Administration. Research by The Wilderness Society shows only three significant federal agencies are headquartered outside of D.C.: Social Security Administration in Baltimore; Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta; and Railroad Retirement Board in Chicago.

BLM retiree Elana Daly says a D.C. location is critical to working alongside agencies in the Interior Department who share the building. She is a member of the Public Lands Foundation, a network of current and former BLM employees. She said the proximity of various agency workers is a networking boon.“We met informally pretty frequently,” she said in the High Country News story.

Another official, Elizabeth Klein, former associate deputy secretary at the Interior Department during the Obama Administration, said, “Any movement like that costs a lot of money, creates a lot of uncertainty and causes angst with employees. I have not seen anything that has been put out or any formal proposal that would justify that kind of time and expense.”

Klein said talk of a move is politically motivated, as it has been during prior administrations. “It doesn’t appear to me to be a very well-thought-out, rational and cost-effective proposal,” she said.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., would like to see the headquarters move to Grand Junction. He is up for re-election in 2020. “Making this agency more accountable to the people who have to deal with its management decisions by putting its headquarters among the land it manages would be a great start to modernizing for the next 100 years,” Gardner said in a statement from his office.

Gardner introduced the Bureau of Land Management Headquarters Relocation Act in May, saying, “Ninety-nine percent of the 250 million acres of land managed by BLM is west of the Mississippi River, and having the decision-makers present in the communities they impact will lead to better policy.”

But critics argue the opposite. Daly suggests that the BLM should rely on their in-state managers who already work on a local level.“The policymakers won’t meet with the local ranchers because they don’t have the time,” she added.

Critics of the move posit that the BLM is already highly decentralized for a federal agency and is heavily based in the states. “Ninety-seven percent of BLM employees already work in the areas they serve,” said Jayson O’Neill, deputy director at Western Values Project, a western lands advocacy organization. “They’ve completely failed to make the case to Westerners on why this would increase participation. The reality is much different.”