The Trump administration plans to relocate the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from Washington, D.C., to Colorado, according to two lawmakers.
The reorganization, first considered under former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is aimed at putting more agency officials closer to the lands they manage out West, though critics have questioned moving tenured policy officials far from the nation’s capital.
Around 300 BLM employees are expected to relocate out West under the move with at least 50 going to a newly created headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., and the rest divided among the western states of Utah, Nevada and others, a spokesperson for Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) confirmed to The Hill.
Bishop is the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee and was a champion of the reorganization plans.
Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner (R) confirmed the headquarters move on Monday, calling it a “significant win” for his state.
“This means that people will be able to have greater say, greater impact on public lands decisions that affect their community,” Gardner said in a video he tweeted.
“This is an effort I started years ago under the Obama administration so that we could have the policy makers in Washington closer home to the people that are most impacted by the decisions that Washington makes.”
The Department of Interior, which oversees BLM, did not respond to requests for comment or details about the plan. The agency is expected to make an announcement later Tuesday.
Democratic lawmakers criticized the administration for failing to alert them earlier of the planned move, which is expected to affect BLM managers and other agency officials.
“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,” Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.
“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.”
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt often failed to provide any details about the move when pushed by lawmakers, typically saying the decision began under Zinke and was still being reviewed. Bernhardt is originally from Rifle, Colo., about 60 miles east of Grand Junction.
“We’ve been asking questions for more than a year about what they’re planning, who and what infrastructure they’re moving, how much this will cost, how they justify it, what impacts they expect on agency missions, etc,” said a senior Democratic staffer on the committee.
“They’ve refused to answer any of those questions.”
However, it’s unclear how much approval from Congress is necessary for the administration to continue with its plans.
The BLM headquarters move could be the first of many reorganizational plans within the Department of Interior. Zinke first announced in January 2018 plans to overhaul the department, arguing that too many bureaucrats lead from Washington rather than the areas they are regulating. His plan, announced last August, would reorganize management of the department through 12 ecosystem and watershed boundaries rather than state lines in what will be called Unified Regions.
The plans have yet to take root, but Bernhardt has indicated they are forthcoming.
Grand Junction sits outside of Colorado National Monument preserves, which spills across the western border into Utah. The town has an estimated population of a little over 63,000. Most of the area surrounding Grand Junction are public lands managed by BLM. The town already has a large percentage of government employment, ranging from the school district to the county and city, according to a report from Grand Junction.
The decision to move West comes as other agencies are also planning to relocate parts of their teams. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has moved employees around several of its offices outside of D.C., and the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave more than 500 employees until Monday to decide whether to move to the Kansas City area.