According to news reports, today is the Department of the Interior (DOI) Assistant Secretary Joe Balash’s last day. Balash was slated to testify in front of Congress in the coming weeks on Interior’s controversial plan to move the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) out of Washington D.C. despite Congressional and public objections.
“Bernhardt’s Interior still hasn’t offered a clear plan or purpose for this reckless BLM move – and now, the department’s leading voice on the relocation abruptly resigns right before a Congressional hearing,” said Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of the Western Values Project. “It will be up to Bernhardt and his acting BLM director William Pendley to answer these critical questions that they’ve failed to address time and again.”
Balash has been a leading voice within the administration to move BLM headquarters, which 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 been called into question by former BLM career public servants 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 said the intent of relocating federal employees was to force them to quit.
Additional Background on Joe Balash
Joe Balash joined Interior’s Land and Minerals Management Department as the Assistant Secretary. He headed up the Department’s efforts to begin drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Once called a “dependable soldier” within the Trump administration, Balash was a strong advocate for energy and drilling interests. Balash was the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, which managed lands and waters that produced “more than 500,000 barrels of oil… daily,” and was a key player in a push to lower oil taxes.
It’s unclear if Balash plans to follow the in the footsteps of former-Interior Secretary Zinke by cycling through Washington D.C.’s proverbial revolving door to become alobbyist. According to Trump’s ethics order, Balash is prohibited from lobbying his former department for five years and federal post-employment law prohibits his involvement with Interior officials for one year.