BLM move hailed for long-term benefits

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Diane Schwenke and Robin Brown welcome the 27 jobs coming to the Grand Valley as part of a reorganization of the Bureau of Land Management.

Diane Schwenke

What’s even more important in terms of the long-term implications, Schwenke and Brown said, is what’s coming with them, and that’s the headquarters of the federal agency.

“This raises the national awareness of Grand Junction like nothing we could ever do in a marketing campaign,” said Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, agreed. “It kind of changes the narrative.”

Robin Brown

Schwenke and Brown said they expect the relocation of the BLM headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction to attract companies and organizations that work with the agency. Other businesses relocating operations also are more likely to consider Grand Junction.

Moreover, the success of collaborative efforts to bring the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction should inspire confidence in similarly ambitious recruiting endeavors, Brown said. “We should expect more.”

The BLM announced plans to move its headquarters and 27 executive and support positions to Grand Junction as part of an reorganization that will transfer 296 positions from Washington to locations in western states that are closer to the public lands the agency manages.

The Department of Interior, which oversees the BLM, conducted a telephone press briefing on the reorganization. Joe Balash, assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said during the briefing

550 positions at the BLM headquarters in Washington were evaluated to determine if they were needed to fulfill the functions of the agency and, if so, where those positions are best located. Of those, 166 positions already are assigned to field locations.

The evaluation determined 61 positions should remain in Washington, including those related to budgeting, congressional relations and regulatory affairs, Balash said.

Another 296 positions should be assigned to other locations, including 74 positions allocated to BLM state offices, he said. A total of 222 positions should be assigned to other locations in the West depending on the programs in which they involved. Staff in rangeland management, for example, will be assigned to Idaho. Staff in a renewable energy program will be assigned to California.

The BLM director, deputy director of operations, assistant directors and selected members of their staffs will be assigned to a new headquarters in Grand Junction.

Another 58 positions will assigned to Colorado, including national and state offices in Lakewood.

Accounting for the higher costs of office space in Washington compared to other areas of the country as well as travel between western states and the capital, the move could save $50 million to $100 million over 20 years, Balash said. “The taxpayers would be better off with the headquarters somewhere else.”

The reorganization also will position BLM staff closer to the public lands the agency manages, nearly all of them west of the Mississippi River. In addition, the move will redistribute the institutional knowledge in Washington across the West as senior staff mentor those coming up through the ranks, he said.

Locations in Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah were considered for the headquarters. Balash said Grand Junction was selected in part because the agency wanted a headquarters that stood apart from state BLM offices.

Balash said he expects the reorganization to ensure over the next 15 months. Work will soon begin on securing office space in Grand Junction.

David Bernhardt, who was confirmed in May as Interior secretary, issued a statement praising the reorganization. “A meaningful realignment of our operations is not simply about where functions are performed. Rather, it is rooted in how changes will better respond to the needs of the American people. Under our proposal, every western state will gain additional staff resources. This approach will play an invaluable role in serving the American people more efficiently while also advancing the Bureau of Land Management’s multiple-use mission. Shifting critical leadership positions and supporting staff to western states — where an overwhelming majority of federal lands are located — is not only a better management system, it is beneficial to the interest of the American public in these communities, cities, counties and states.”

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, said he’s worked since 2016 to move the BLM headquarters to the West.

“I am thrilled that the Bureau of Land Management and its senior leadership will be relocated to Grand Junction,” Gardner said in a news release. “This is a smart decision that transcends political parties and will generate a positive economic ripple effect throughout the state of Colorado.”

Gardner said it’s important to locate the agency closer to the people it serves and lands it manages. “Government is best when it is closer and more accountable to the American people. And relocating the directorate of the BLM to Western Colorado will ensure our public lands are protected for many future generations to enjoy.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis also issued a statement hailing the move. “We are thrilled to welcome the Bureau of Land Management and their employees to the great state of Colorado. As I stated to Secretary Bernhardt many times, Grand Junction is the perfect location for the BLM because of community support, location closer to the land BLM manages and the positive impact it will have on our Western Colorado economy. Hard to think of a better place to house the department responsible for overseeing our beloved public lands.”

The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and Grand Junction Economic Partnership joined with other organizations and individuals in a lengthy effort to bring the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction.

While the move won’t bring as many jobs as once believed, Schwenke said they’re high-paying jobs nonetheless. Moreover, the benefits will extend beyond the jobs in drawing attention — and potentially other businesses — to Grand Junction.

Brown said the selection of Grand Junction for BLM headquarters constitutes recognition the city offers a good location — something companies considering their own moves will notice. “It kind of legitimizes us.”

While many were skeptical BLM headquarters would ever come to Grand Junction, the decision should demonstrate what’s possible, she added.