After Interior stonewalled Congress and the press about the actual cost of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) relocation, Western Values Project (WVP) has successfully obtained the agency’s newly signed lease in Grand Junction, Colorado, through a Freedom of Information Act request. Many questions remain about the contentious BLM move, including the supposed “cost-saving,” as well as the future of the career employees being forced to relocate. Last week, the House Natural Resources Committee rightfully called for an investigation by the congressional watchdog U.S. Government Accountability Office.
“This investigation will help to rein in the Trump administration’s political play with our public lands. Moving the BLM out of D.C. and away from the decision-making table has always been intended to weaken the agency. By signing a lease before answering Congressional inquiries, it is clear that Secretary Bernhardt is ignoring oversight efforts and the widespread concern the move has caused,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of the Western Values Project. “We’ve always known the pointless and reckless move would be a boon for special oil and gas interests. But the question remains: Will Congress allow Interior to spend millions in tax dollars on this shameless attack on our public lands?”
Interior officials themselves estimate that the average relocation costs may amount to $50,000 per affected employee. The BLM relocation is also likely to result in $162,000 in new equipment and furnishing costs. Previously, Interior officials claimed that cost savings would come from cuts to employee salaries — while simultaneously approving of 25% bonuses for employees willing to relocate.
“Interior’s leadership team is not taking Congressional, public, or employee concern seriously and instead, plowing ahead with this long-questioned move. Why? Because the Trump administration admitted that the intent of the move is to force career employees to quit, further fostering an already thriving culture of corruption that puts our public lands at risk,” continued O’Neill.
It is ultimately unclear how Interior will pay for the BLM move. Sec. Bernhardt requested $14 million to relocate the Bureau of Land Management out of Washington D.C., pushing the headquarters office to Grand Junction, Colorado. After using only $5.6 million of the allocated funds, the Interior requested $27.6 million more for the reorganization. Congress rejected Interior’s initial appropriations request for further funding.
However, just yesterday, Congress released its 2020 spending package which increased Interior’s budget by $900 million more than the previous fiscal year. The funding was accompanied alongside a request that the agency provides “regular briefings to lawmakers on the controversial Bureau of Land Management headquarters relocation.” According to E&E News, appropriators provided the same funding the department had received in fiscal 2019 of $5.9 million.
With the Congressional spending package still in flux and lacking an official vote, it remains under question how Interior can be so confident in the controversial move West. How Interior will pay for training new employees, promised relocation bonuses or other costs associated with the move with many questions still unresolved and funding levels far below the agency’s requested amount?
After Western Values Project discovered that the new BLM headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado would be co-located with several extractive corporations and special interests, the public lands watchdog released a new website, WeDrillHQ.com, and video criticizing the controversial decision.