Plans to Move the Bureau of Land Management Headquarters West Raise Questions

Critics of the move say it's a way to weaken the agency and eliminate senior officials and scientists who don't want to relocate.
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Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area spans 210,000 acres south of Grand Junction, Colorado.

Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area spans 210,000 acres south of Grand Junction, Colorado.

Since the Trump administration confirmed on Tuesday the plan to relocate most of the Bureau of Land Management's headquarters staff to the West, more questions have been raised as to whether the move is cost-effective and in the agency's best interest.

In a letter that went out to lawmakers, the Department of the Interior (which oversees the BLM) laid out a plan to move nearly 300 BLM staffers out of Washington, D.C., to a new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado, and other regional offices in states including Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

The letter announcing the plan focused on the potential cost-saving benefits of the move. Joe Balash, the Department of the Interior's assistant secretary for land and minerals, described how the move will save an estimated $50 million in taxpayer money over the next 20 years. Those saving will come from reduced travel costs, lowered salaries to match the reduced cost of living in areas like Grand Junction, and less expensive office space. Current BLM office space in D.C. is reportedly $50 per square foot and likely to increase once the BLM's main lease expires in 2020. That's compared to an estimated $32.35 per square foot for office space in Grand Junction.

Many Republicans—particularly those in states the BLM employees would move to—celebrated the announcement. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), who pushed for the move, tweeted that it would bring the bureau's decision-makers closer to the people and land affected by their decisions. But Democratic leaders have already spoken out against the move, calling into question the motives behind it and asking how much the relocation itself will cost taxpayers.

"It's a way for them to get rid of a lot of professional staff here in Washington," Representative Jared Huffman (D-California) said, according to E&E News. Huffman and other critics of the move say it's a way to weaken the agency and eliminate senior officials and scientists who don't want to relocate.

Jason Plautz wrote about the push to move the BLM to Grand Junction last week for Pacific Standard:

There are fears that relocating agencies removes the protection for bureaucrats making controversial decisions. The BLM handles fossil fuel extraction, mining, and ranching, and is the agency in charge of decisions to, say, shut down oil and gas drilling on federal land. Would a BLM director be able to make that move if they're coaching oil workers' kids in little league?

Congress already approved the Department of the Interior's fiscal budget for 2019, which includes $5.6 million earmarked for the BLM relocation. But Democrats like Representative Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, say they'll put up a fight about allowing any further funding of the move that's set to be carried out by the end of next year.

More immediately, 27 BLM staffers whose jobs are set to move to the new Grand Junction headquarters have until August 15th to decide whether to relocate or get help finding a job at another agency.

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