Don’t dig for water under the outhouse.
William Perry Pendley, the embattled appointed director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has recently emerged from a period of lying low with a message to the public.
However, Pendley’s recent commentary to The Denver Post titled, “America’s largest land manager now amidst public lands,” was little more than a rerun of self-congratulatory rhetoric and a rosy narrative of his work relocating the BLM headquarters out West.
Pendley begins by quoting President Trump’s justification for the relocation: “We’re taking the Bureau of Land Management out of D.C. … so land managers can actually live in the West.”
Never mind that Pendley himself kept his office in D.C. and forced the majority of career experts out of the job. Never mind that state and field office managers have lived and worked in the West for decades, and it’s notable (albeit, not surprising) Pendley so closely aligns with a president who just two weeks ago withdrew his nomination to formally lead the agency. This is all just a game to them.
The White House has yet to offer any explanation for the withdrawal, but many suspect the move to be political shielding for vulnerable candidates like Sen. Cory Gardner during an election year.
A Senate confirmation process would have fully revealed how absurd he is as a candidate for leadership at the BLM. The elephant in the room remains — if Pendley is unfit for congressional approval for the role, then why does he still remain at the helm of BLM?
Sidestepping guidelines, it’s been exposed that Pendley signed succession orders that, in the absence of a Senate confirmed director, reinstated himself! The situation is irresponsibly circular, corrupt and may have negative impacts lasting for decades.
When Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed the order on Aug. 10, formally establishing Grand Junction as the national headquarters, I thought it was time for a visit. Pendley declared the doors open to the new headquarters office months ago in January, welcoming visitation.
It’s an exciting opportunity to visit with people that administer 245 million acres of public land with 10,000 dedicated employees, some of whom I’m privileged to know and deeply respect.
It was Aug. 11, the day after Secretary Bernhardt declared the headquarters relocation complete, and I walked into the empty building lobby to see a lone security guard staring out at me from behind a locked glass door with the lights off.
Friendly and professional, he came to the door, seemingly surprised to see me, and I asked if any staff was available to talk with. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes when he said in a hushed voice, “no one’s here.”
As I walked out in the parking lot, I was less astonished by the abundant flakes of ash falling from the nearby Pine Gulch fire than I was by a brazen culture of dishonesty this administration consistently employs — the entire scenario, an ironic metaphor of the administration’s actions in the relocation effort.
Pendley said, “The move was designed to delegate more responsibility to the field, maximize services to the American people, and increase the BLM’s presence closest to the resources it manages.”
You’d think if that were the case there’d be at least a mention of gratitude for BLM and other wildland firefighters working the largest wildfire in Colorado history.
Pendley has repeatedly justified the relocation on the exorbitantly priced D.C. office space, that the relocation would save the BLM money by a reduced rate in rent.
But on Tuesday, the Interior’s Office of Inspector General issued a report that found that Pendley had overplayed the cost of BLM’s M Street lease, and that the agency already had plans to return to office space owned by the government.
Pendley further made claims he acted “compassionately regarding long-serving, dedicated employees” — a statement resembling a smiling slap in the face of truth. In March, the Government Accountability Office found that Pendley had failed to establish a strategic reorganization plan, performance measures or even consult with affected staff at BLM.
In the midst of this chaos, Sen. Gardner, the “chief architect” of the BLM’s relocation, is attempting to get a pass. He made the announcement of the headquarters relocation publicly before a single BLM employee was notified — a shameful move, more reminiscent of the pop tabloid TMZ than a government representative.
Imagine seeing that news release, hardly comprehending your lifelong career in public service and life-as-you-know-it is compromised by a flaky political move. In hindsight, people were forced out of lifelong jobs before COVID-19 would arrive and change our lives even further.
By the end of his commentary, it’s hard to conclude what exactly Pendley wants us to believe. That the BLM is ready now, but actually will be soon? That he is kind and thoughtful toward his not-yet-congressionally-approved employees?
But coming from a guy who has mocked Native American spiritual beliefs, prefers the slur “Wuhan virus” over COVID-19 and considers the Black Lives Matter movement to be based on a lie; it is clear as day that Pendley has no regard for the people or lands he is illegally serving.
Cody M. Perry is co-founder of Rig To Flip, a media company specializing in stories about the Colorado River Basin’s land, water and people that inspire stewardship, awareness and engagement. He lives in Grand Junction, Colorado.
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