The Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday announced plans to relocate leadership positions from its former Grand Junction national headquarters to Washington, D.C.
But, as part of the agency’s commitment to maintaining a stronger presence in Colorado, the National Conservation Lands and community partnerships will anchor BLM’s western headquarters.
BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning told employees in an email on Tuesday that the deputy operations director would return to Washington, D.C., according to The hill, who first broke the news. Stone-Manning and the deputy director of policy and programs are already based in the nation’s capital.
Most of the vice principals and assistant vice principals, eight in all, are also transferred from Grand Junction, along with 30 vacant senior positions.
The email, obtained by Colorado Politics, also said the agency had yet to make a decision on the best locations for some of the additional headquarters vacancies and was also evaluating other positions that have been moved and scattered across the West in 2019 and the best way to fulfill the Western HQ role.
“I rely on the Employee Advisory Group we are creating to help inform these decisions, as well as to help represent employee perspectives when implementing decisions, including considerations related to remote work and telecommuting,” Stone-Manning said.
BLM has struggled to fill these positions after the Trump administration moved national headquarters to an office on Horizon Drive in Grand Junction.
BLM shared the building with Chevron, the Western Slope branch of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, and Laramie Energy. The operations of oil and gas companies on federal lands are regulated by the BLM and the Department of the Interior. The agency oversees more than 245 million acres of public land, almost all of it in the West. Colorado already had a longtime BLM office in Grand Junction when the move was announced.
At the time of the move in 2019, the agency employed about 360 people in Washington. Some 287 employees chose to retire or go work elsewhere, and that included more than half of the agency’s black employees. Another 41 employees moved to other Western BLM offices.
Only three employees chose to move to Grand Junction. Relocating employees also likely saw a pay cut to account for the lower cost of living on the Colorado West Slope, compared to Washington, D.C. BLM employees receive a 30% increase in “locality wage” to work in Washington. Office of Personnel Management 2021 dataGrand Junction is not entitled to a locality wage difference.
Supporters said the move would bring BLM decision-makers closer to the millions of federal acres they administer and the vast majority of agency employees already based in the West.
That did not include the agency’s acting director, William Perry Pendley, formerly of the Mountain States Legal Foundation in Lakewood. Pendley, whose nomination for permanent director was withdrawn by Trump, remained in Washington even after the move.
While Colorado’s congressional delegation and Gov. Jared Polis supported the move to Grand Junction, particularly for the high-paying jobs it would bring, the move angered congressional Democrats, including U.S. Representative Deb Haaland, D-NM, now US Secretary of the Interior.
Haaland joined U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, in seeking a review of the decision by the Office of Government Accounting in 2019.
“The committee saw no analysis, no planning, no budget. … BLM employees and American taxpayers deserve better,” Grijalva said at the time.
A GAO Reportpublished in March 2020, assessed the office’s reorganization efforts against key practices for reforms.
“The office set goals for the reorganization, but did not establish performance measures. We also found that the office’s implementation plan did not include milestones, which would help ensure that the reforms are being completed as planned and in a timely manner. We recommended that the office establish results-based performance measures to assess the effectiveness of the reorganization,” the GAO report states.
Additionally, the report criticized BLM management for not “addressing key practices for engaging employees and key stakeholders in developing its plan.” The Department of the Interior did not agree or disagree with the GAO’s recommendations.
Former BLM employees also criticized the move, saying then-Home Secretary David Bernhardt was setting the agency up for failure. The move would result in “massive disruption and expenditure of funds for no gain.”
Haaland visited Grand Junction last July and noted that the agency had 80 vacancies in the Grand Junction office, positions that cannot be filled until “we chart a balanced path.” She said during the visit that she remains open to the idea that Grand Junction will play an important role in the future of BLM.
She described the visit as an “eye-opening experience” that reinforced her belief in putting BLM employees first. She said they needed more uncertainty from future administrations, but added: “We also owe it to the people of Grand Junction.”
In September, Haaland announced that the agency’s national headquarters would move back to Washington, D.C., but with plans to expand offices in Grand Junction and make the Colorado city its official western headquarters.
The move will restore the office’s “leadership presence in Washington, DC — like all other land management agencies,” and ensure its officials are close to policy and budget decisions, Haaland said.
Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, welcomed Tuesday’s decision.
“Today’s announcement marks the end of a mistake,” Rokala said. “I am heartened to see the Bureau of Land Management move so quickly to reverse the damage wrought by the Trump administration and anti-public lands extremist William Perry Pendley. Our nation’s public lands need strong leadership at the table in Washington, so there’s no time to lose rebuilding the Bureau of Land Management at Interior Headquarters.
Regarding national conservation lands and community partnerships, Scott Braden, director of the Colorado Wildlands Project, said Tuesday that “BLM continues its commitment to a win-win solution to the siege debacle created by the last administration.
He added: “By locating national conservation lands and community partnerships in its Western headquarters, BLM will bring together key land and community leaders in the West, enabling deeper stakeholder engagement to address recreation, conservation and restoration. We hope this rebuilding effort will lead to more meaningful tribal outreach and consultation.”
BLM Colorado manages 65 National Conservation Landsencompassing more than one million acres, or about one-eighth of all BLM land in the state.