The BLM Move Remains Unexplained, Unjustified, and Recklessly Destructive
Today, with Interior Secretary Bernhardt’s Department consistently embroiled in conflicts of interest and questionable ethical conduct, the House Natural Resources Committee (HNRC) granted Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) the power to subpoena Interior in order to force the agency to turn over critical documents.
“The Trump administration has time and again shown its true colors: corporations and special interests first, the American people second. But the culture of corruption at Interior has run particularly rampant under former mega-lobbyist Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and the anti-public land zealots he’s hired,” Jayson O’Neill, Deputy Director of Western Values Project said. “Congress has demanded answers about the reckless BLM move time and again only to be stonewalled. Now, Secretary Bernhardt’s attempt to cover up the dismantling of this critical public lands bureau so it will better serve the Trump administration’s special interest allies will be revealed.”
With the ability to subpoena Interior, HNRC has previewed its intention to get to the bottom of the controversial Bureau of Land Management (BLM) move West. Below are seven questions that subpoenas could help answer.
- Did the agency conduct a formal cost-benefit analysis of moving the BLM Headquarters to Grand Junction and reassigning other personnel to state offices? The only known analysis of the move is a mere two pages long. The provided document fails to address a host of key factors including relocation costs per employee, inevitable increased travel costs, potential impacts on agency functionality, as well as any cheaper alternatives. The document ultimately “does little to back the agency’s reasoning” for the move. The new headquarters has also already proved problematic for BLM law enforcement personnel and is expected to cause many others.
- What was the role of White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney in pushing for the BLM reorganization after saying it was a way to get career staff to quit? After Mick Mulvaney stated that relocating career employees would force them to quit, it was clear the BLM’s brain-power would suffer. So far, the relocation is causing a “major brain drain”, as career staff – whose expertise and integrity have previously stood in the way of Trump’s giveaway to special interests – are choosing to resign from the bureau rather than relocating and uprooting their entire lives.
- What terms and incentives were BLM employees really offered to relocate, and are they still available to employees? How many BLM employees have actually committed to moving to Western state offices and where? Has the agency been successful at recruiting high-quality candidates to work at the new Grand Junction headquarters? After Interior employees who transferred were warned that they “should expect a drop in their overall pay,” it’s unclear why any BLM employee would choose to relocate. Interior initially approved bonus payments to employees willing to relocate. But employees may be transferred without receiving these bonuses. BLM is expected to lose “the majority” of its DC-based employees, but so far, the agency has refused to release official information about the number of employees who are relocating, transferring to other DC-based bureaus, or leaving the agency. While Acting BLM Director Pendley claims that as many of two-thirds of employees have agreed to relocate, sources told E&E News that as many as 80% of DC staffers will not be relocating. Further, BLM has had trouble finding qualified candidates willing to move to Grand Junction, as well as to other state offices. So far the bureau has been unable to fill more than half of senior leadership positions located in the new Grand Junction headquarters.
- Were impacts on the diversity and inclusiveness of the BLM discussed before going forward with the move? The decision to relocate BLM will likely decrease diversity and likely open the agency to discrimination lawsuits. Meanwhile, Acting BLM Director Pendley touts a troubling history on civil rights, diversity, and inclusion.
- Why were some BLM staff from state offices temporarily reassigned to work at the new headquarters in Grand Junction? What was the cost of this temporary reassignment to taxpayers? BLM employees have been temporarily reassigned to the agency’s new headquarters to “give the appearance” it is “occupied and busy.” Temporary reassignments have been seen as “a waste of time at best and a waste of taxpayer resources at worst.”
- Did Interior or BLM leadership communicate with representatives of the oil and gas corporations and special interest groups with which they now share a building before the lease was signed? After Interior signed a lease for the BLM’s new office space, it quickly became clear that the agency would be co-located with several extractive corporations and special interests, including Chevron, Laramie Energy, and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. Given Interior’s previous attempts at accomplishing the to-do lists of industry allies, the office location is suspect and deserves scrutiny.
- Who offered Colorado Senator Cory Gardner the platform to announce the BLM relocation and why? The first to announce the BLM’s official relocation? Colorado Senator Cory Gardner. Gardner’s announcement came as other members of Congress, notably members of House Natural Resources and House Appropriations, remained in the dark about the decision. Sen. Gardner seems to be the loudest spokesperson for the move: when asked for details about the number of positions being relocated to each state, an Interior official even referred a reporter to Gardner’s website.