BILLINGS, Mont. — A U.S. government watchdog agency said Friday that 81 Bureau of Land Management employees have declined to relocate to Western states or left their positions as the Trump administration pursues a broad reorganization of the bureau’s headquarters staff.
The Government Accountability Office issued a report that faulted the administration for failing to follow key reform practices such as involving employees and stakeholders in its plans.
The bureau has about 10,000 employees, and most are already in field offices in the West with only about 400 in Washington, D.C. The Interior Department said last year it planned to move about 300 of them to the West.
The transfers are part of the Trump administration’s decision to create a new national headquarters in Grand Junction. The move was championed by Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, who is touting the relocation in his 2020 reelection bid. Democrats, including Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, also pushed for the move.
The bureau oversees nearly 388,000 square miles of public land, 99% of it in 12 Western states.
Out of 170 bureau staff who received relocation notices, 90 accepted, 81 declined or left their positions and eight fell into other categories, the GAO found.
About 130 positions already were vacant when the relocation was announced.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva said the GAO investigation showed the administration was trying to drive out staff and destroy the bureau’s ability to carry out its mission.
In response, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Megan Crandall said the relocation was “commonsense” and would better position officials to serve the public and allow multiple uses of public lands.
The Colorado Sun contributed to this report.