The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently uploaded a new FAQ section to its website outlining what it says are the reasons why the agency is relocating to new headquarters in Grand Junction, CO. The talking points, however, are filled with political spin and the same debunked talking points that have been called into question by former BLM career public servants, Members of Congress, and the Western Governors Association.
The unprecedented plan to move BLM isn’t an effort to bring jobs out West, it’s an effort to gut the public lands bureau so it will better serve their special interest allies. Ultimately, moving the BLM is a reckless, purposeless, and cynical attempt to dismantle the agency by excluding career expertise from the public lands decision-making process.
“Grand Junction was selected because of its significant cost savings, travel accessibility, quality of life attributes, and other factors, such as our desire not to place the Headquarters in the same city as a State or District Office.”
This site was selected to give extractive corporations unfettered access to BLM decision-makers. The BLM ultimately signed a lease in a building that also houses a Chevron corporate office, a state oil and gas association, and an independent natural gas exploration company.
In its newly leased third floor office at 760 Horizon Dr in Grand Junction, CO, BLM Headquarters will be sandwiched between Westslope Oil and Gas Association and Laramie Energy on the first floor and Chevron corporate office on the fourth floor. Key BLM decision-makers will be riding the elevator and holding the door for the same oil and gas entities that they are charged with regulating.
“Moving the people who make critical decisions about the lands and programs we manage will help provide a greater on-the-ground understanding and will also foster better partnerships with communities and organizations there.”
The move may sound appealing on paper, and any move to get more input from folks on the ground is a good idea, but that’s far from the point of the latest smoke-and-mirrors exercise from the Trump administration. The proposal to move BLM’s headquarters is nothing more than a political power grab — backed by no plan and supporting no public purpose — that would undermine the agency’s work and waste taxpayer funds in order to help special interests further profit off our public lands.
Simply put, Bernhardt isn’t relocating the BLM to get more input from the West; he’s relocating BLM to hamstring career employees committed to protecting our public lands. Indeed, Trump’s Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney recently 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.
“The relocation of positions to the west would result in overall substantial savings for the BLM and for American taxpayers over time. Such savings include lower rent costs for office space, lower cost of living allowances paid to employees and a reduction of travel costs from D.C. to the west.”
We don’t know how much the BLM relocation will cost taxpayers, but we know it will be an exorbitant amount. The Interior already spent some $14 million on the reorganization and relocation proposal and has requested an additional $27 million that has not yet been allocated.
Interior officials have previously estimated that average relocation costs may amount to $50,000 per employee forced to move. Given that of the 323 positions projected to be affected by the relocation, 177 are occupied, the potential cost of relocating these employees could near almost $9 million.
For example, leaked documents show that some 49 BLM staffers, including four of BLM’s legislative affairs employees – whose job it is to work with member offices on Capitol Hill – would be relocating to the Reno, Nevada, field office, while dozens more are expected to be relocated to Grand Junction, Colorado.
Additionally, although BLM previously claimed that cost savings would come from a cheaper office space, the proposed new HQ building will lease almost double the square footage per employee compared to the current D.C. office space — leading to nominal, if any, cost savings. The projected office space-related savings are less than $2,000 a month. With the resulting increased costs for new equipment and furnishing, it will be over eight years before the savings in office space offset these other new costs.