Interior Releases Plan To Disperse Bureau of Land Management Employees

Published: Tuesday, July 16, 2019 - 5:09pm
Updated: Wednesday, July 17, 2019 - 8:59am

The Interior Department on Tuesday released details of its plan to disperse Washington D.C.-based jobs in the Bureau of Land Management out into the West.

But the plan is getting pushback.   

Interior will relocate 296 bureau positions to field offices in various states, including 39 jobs to Arizona. A new bureau headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado, would gain 27 new positions. 

The Interior Department will keep about 60 staff in place, including those who work on budgeting, legislative affairs, communications and Freedom of Information Act requests.

“The fact of the matter is most of the work of the bureau gets done at the state and local level,” said Joe Balash, assistant secretary of Interior for Land and Minerals. “And what we have begun here in this administration is pushing more and more of the decision-making out and down in the organizational chart.”

Proximity to more BLM staff, Baylash said, will better serve the public. He also estimated the move would save the federal government at least $50 million over 20 years.

According to Baylash’s letter to lawmakers, over 90% of bureau employees are in Western states but just 54% of senior executives. 

Critics of the Trump administration see the move as a way for Interior to get seasoned civil servants to quit.

“It’s part of this brain-drain strategy that we have seen across the entire Trump administration where numerous agencies are just trying to get rid of civil servants who have the expertise to do their jobs well,” said Aaron Weiss of the conservation group Center for Western Priorities. “Because in the Trump administration, knowledge and expertise and competence is a threat to what they want to do.”

Weiss believed Interior Secretary David Bernhardt would have to ask Congress, who appropriates money for moves like this, before any relocation could occur. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday the BLM’s acting director told employees $5 million was available to begin the move in May.  

Weiss called that a “low number.”

President Trump has yet to nominate someone to permanently lead the Bureau of Land Management. 

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