By Caitlyn Kim, CPR News
The Trump administration’s decision to relocate the Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction and other cities in the West led to a huge loss of staff, according to new numbers provided by the Department of the Interior.
Of the 328 positions slated to move out West when the move was announced, 287 headquarter employees chose to retire or found new employment between July 2019 and December 2020. Only 41 people moved with their jobs.
Critics of the move have long argued that it would hollow out the agency and deprive it of expertise. Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, said the Trump administration was “so secretive” about the numbers and the details about the move.
“What it looks like, because of all of that secrecy, is that this headquarters move has just been a total failure,” Weiss said. “And it was, as we expected, just a move to eviscerate the agency and centralize control, ironically, with [former Interior] Secretary [David] Bernhardt in Washington, D.C.”
The new leadership at the Interior said it will work with career BLM staff “to understand the ramifications of the headquarters move and determine if any adjustments need to be made.”
“We are committed to engaging with a number of stakeholders through this process, including Tribes and Members of Congress. BLM’s important mission and the communities served by the agency deserve a deliberate and thoughtful process,” said Melissa Schwartz, Interior Department Communications Director, in a statement.
Currently of the 480 BLM Headquarters jobs spread across the west, 100 remain vacant, Schwartz said.
Colorado legislators have indicated they will fight to keep the BLM HQ in the state.
Last week, Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper wrote to President Joe Biden to reiterate their support for a “full BLM headquarters in Grand Junction.”
“We believe that such an effort must be more than symbolic and must include the staff and resources to improve management and protect our public land,” the two wrote.
Rep. Lauren Boebert, whose district includes Grand Junction, sent her own letter to Biden, arguing that the headquarters move improved BLM service, saved money and led to better decisions.
Colorado leaders are not uniformly pleased with the Bureau’s recent actions though. The state is suing the BLM over its resource management plan for the Western Slope’s Uncompahgre Plateau.
“I urge the Biden administration to work with the bipartisan Colorado delegation and other Members of Congress that support keeping the headquarters in Grand Junction to ensure it continues to be a success,” Boebert said in a statement.
Her letter was signed by 21 other Republican House members, including fellow Colorado Republican Reps. Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn.