Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) William Pendley was grilled by the House Natural Resources Committee today regarding the bureau’s proposed relocation of its headquarters — a controversial and unnecessary move that has been panned by public lands advocates and members of Congress alike. Pendley’s lack of candor and anti-public lands talking points affirmed that he’s continuing to work toward handing over public lands to special interest allies.
“Pendley’s appearance on Capitol Hill was an anti-public lands dog whistle. Pendley has been loud and clear about his stance on public lands: he thinks they should be abolished. Today’s hearing proves Pendley is more interested in undermining BLM’s mission than fighting for it,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of the Western Values Project. “The proposal to move BLM’s headquarters is nothing more than a political power grab — backed by no plan and supporting no purpose — that would undermine the agency’s work and waste taxpayer funds in order to help special interests further profit off our public lands.”
Pendley’s reassurance to committee members’ concerns about the lack of career public servant voices left at the Washington D.C. negotiating table was that he would be remaining in D.C. This offers little consolation, given Pendley’s 30-year record of advocating for the abolishment of federal public lands. Pendley spent the hearing referring to the American people as his newest “client” and to America’s public lands as a “resource.”
Pendley said he believed the agency engaged in on-the-ground negotiations and consultations with Native American tribes, though Pendley’s history of working with tribes is dubious at best — specifically concerning the Badger-Two Medicine, an area sacred to the Blackfeet Tribe.
Pendley’s argument for moving the agency referenced employees working in the same timezone, which raises the question: how have localized BLM officials previously been communicating with the Washington D.C. headquarters?
The controversial acting BLM director also failed to address new documents reported by The Hill that revealed a position-by-position breakdown of the relocation that has yet been shared with career employees. The July 15 internal Interior document found that the unprecedented plan would indeed move BLM legislative staff to the Reno, Nevada office despite Interior leadership previously claiming those positions would stay in Washington.
The proposed BLM HQ move has been widely criticized for lacking a purpose since the vast majority of BLM staff are already based in the states. Reorganizing the BLM is seen by members of Congress as part of a larger effort to appease special interests by skirting government accountability efforts. The move has also been called into question by former BLM career public servants and the Western Governors Association, who believe it’s a not-so-veiled attempt to transfer public lands to states, a precursor to selling them to private interests. Recently, Trump’s Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney admitted that the intent of relocating federal employees was to force them to quit.
There are more than a dozen agencies that have partial jurisdiction over our public lands, such as the U.S. Forest Service, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Department of Commerce, National Park Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and others. Failure to maintain BLM HQ staff in D.C. will result in the exclusion of these key leaders on important and real-time discussions and decisions.