The acting head of the Bureau of Land Management said Thursday he understands the anger some employees feel over a large-scale reorganization and the agency’s headquarters move to Grand Junction.
William Perry Pendley, during a visit to the small city between Denver and Salt Lake, said some employees based in Washington, D.C., have told him to this face that they don’t want to go.
“We are being as compassionate as we possibly can” with those unhappy with the move, he said, “but at the same time, we have a job to do and we want to get it done.”
Pendley himself will stay in D.C., part of a small core of about 60 BLM employees. Hundreds of other positions will be sent out of the nation’s capital with at least 27 based in Grand Junction. A spokesperson said letters to formally ask employees to relocate will be sent out shortly.
Once they receive notice, an employee has 30 days to make a decision, then 90 days to move.
While this upheaval will be “traumatic” for some people, Pendley said, he insisted it’s going to be “very positive” for the American people. The reasoning remains the same: it will get top decision makers closer to the land they oversee. He praised Grand Junction in particular for its quality of life, for being close to hiking, biking and fishing opportunities, and as a reprieve from the wall of traffic Washington-based workers face daily.
The BLM is in the midst of filling positions in Grand Junction, Pendley said.
“Obviously, some 60 people love the idea of living in Grand Junction, Colorado and being my chief of staff,” he said, adding the agency couldn’t find any qualified candidates before the job was moved to Colorado.
One of the big criticisms of the agency’s reorganization brought up by former employees and many Democratic politicians is the institutional knowledge that will be lost from employees who choose not to head West. Perhaps, they contend, this is a sort of stealth way by the Trump administration to weaken the BLM.
Pendley called that “flat wrong.”
“If we wanted to get rid of the agency, we'd go a totally different route,” he said. “And I've testified frequently and I've said to all the employees, ‘we don't want to lose a single employee. We want to find work for you and we hope we can find work for you in the BLM.’”
Pendley also spoke to the fundamental mistrust many liberals have of him and the Trump administration’s approach to public lands. While Pendley has advocated the selling of public lands in the past, he insisted that he no longer does.
When asked about controversial public lands decisions in the West, like the decision to shrink Bears Ears National Monument in Utah or considering whether to allow new uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, Pendley pointed to new public land that was acquired under his temporary tenure.
This administration has gone out of its way to protect the environment, he said.
“But for most people, the most important environment in their lives is the ability to have a job, the ability to put food on the table and provide for their families,” he said. “If there’s things that keep people awake at night, it's that.”
He then pointed to the increase of oil and gas development across western states.
“So we can combine the beauty of the West and also the ability to have jobs and provide for an opportunity for the American people,” he said.