Interior secretary to move BLM headquarters back to Washington

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland
Congresswoman Lauren Boebert

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland intends to move the headquarters of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management back to Washington, D.C., as part of what she termed efforts to rebuild the agency.

Grand Junction will remain the western headquarters, however, with an expanded operation.

“There’s no doubt that the BLM should have a leadership presence in Washington, D.C. — like all other land management agencies — to ensure that it has access to the policy, budget and decision-making levers to best carry out its mission,” Haaland stated in a news release from the U.S. Department of Interior. “In addition, the BLM’s robust presence in Colorado and across the West will continue to grow.”

U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a Republican whose 3rd Congressional District includes Grand Junction, condemned the decision. “It is clearly a partisan attack on rural communities. It hasn’t been thought out, and important questions have yet to be answered,” she stated in a news release.

Grand Junction still could benefit, however, Boebert said. “This could still ultimately be a win for Grand Junction and the West as a western headquarters will remain in Grand Junction. More jobs will move to Grand Junction, and all the jobs that moved out West won’t be moved back to D.C.”

The Department of Interior announced in 2019 plans to relocate the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction as well reassign BLM staff to other locations closer to public lands the agency manages.

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, it was estimated the move could save $50 million to $100 million over 20 years.

The Grand Junction Economic Partnership estimated the initial economic contributions of operating the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction at $11 million.

According to the Department of Interior, out of 328 positions moved out of Washington, only 41 people relocated. Just three people moved to Grand Junction. Hundreds of people left the agency.

Haaland stated in the news release the past several years have been disruptive to the agency and its more than 7,000 employees. “As we move forward, my priority is to revitalize and rebuild the BLM so that it can meet the pressing challenges  of our time and to look out for our employees’ well-being.”

Haaland said the BLM director and other leadership positions will be relocated along with the national headquarters to Washington. But other senior personnel will operate from a western headquarters in Grand Junction as part of the more than 95 percent of BLM employees who work outside Washington. Except for core leadership positions, the BLM won’t require employees to relocate.

Boebert blamed U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper, both Democrats from Colorado, for failing to use procedural tools — including holding up the confirmation of Tracy Stone-Manning as BLM director — to secure a commitment to keep the BLM headquarters in Grand Junction.

Boebert pushed for an amendment to the 2020 fiscal year budget prohibiting the use of funds to move the headquarters. The House Committee on Natural Resources passed the amendment.

The question now, she said, is whether the promise of a western BLM headquarters in Grand Junction will be realized. “These new Grand Junction jobs need to be delivered. People should know about them and what they are, and the details shouldn’t be changed later.”