BLM Headquarters And Top Officials Will Move Back To Washington, DC

Stina Sieg/CPR News
The Bureau of Land Management will learn Wednesday how many of its career staff will follow orders and move to new posts across the West. About two dozen positions will be based at the BLM’s new national headquarters in the small, high-desert city of Grand Junction. More than 70 percent of Mesa County is public land, including this rocky swath, about 15 miles from new head office.

Updated 3:34 p.m.

The Bureau of Land Management is returning its top officials and headquarters to Washington, D.C., but keeping a western office in Grand Junction. 

BLM relocated its headquarters in 2020 from Washington to the Western Slope, a place surrounded by public lands. Advocates for the move argued the agency would make better decisions if it was located closer to the people it serves. Many Democrats in Congress questioned the cost, the benefits, and said the process under the Trump administration wasn’t transparent.

The federal agency oversees drilling, mining and recreation on about a tenth of all land in the U.S.

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

She said the past few years were incredibly disruptive to the agency, staff and families. 

“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,” added Secretary Haaland. “I look forward to continuing to work with Congress, Tribes, elected officials and the many stakeholders who care about the stewardship of our shared public lands and healthy communities."

Most of the BLM staff did not relocate from the nation’s Capital to Colorado. Earlier this year the Department of the Interior released numbers showing that of the 328 D.C.-based BLM headquarter employees whose jobs were moved to offices in the West, only 41 stayed with the Bureau. The rest — just over 87 percent — retired or found employment elsewhere.

The response from Colorado's congressional delegation was generally disappointed

Colorado’s Washington delegation was not happy about the move, but supported a strong western headquarters based in Grand Junction and said the agency is committed to increasing the number of staff based out of Colorado.

“A Western BLM Headquarters in Colorado will help ensure we have a fully functioning agency that understands the West,” said Democratic Sen. John Hickenlooper in a statement. 

“We’ll keep working to secure jobs in Grand Junction, including senior leadership positions. To succeed, the Western HQ must be a strong, permanent presence that engages the community and adds a Western perspective and value to the BLM’s mission.”

Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet said in a statement he hoped to eventually increase the number of federal employees in the state.

“While I am disappointed that the national headquarters will be in Washington, I believe establishing and growing a permanent BLM Western Headquarters in Grand Junction should be a very positive development,” said Bennet in the statement.

“I’ve spoken to DOI leadership about the importance of both staffing up the office to fill current vacancies and continuing to grow the BLM’s presence in Grand Junction — in number of employees and significance,” Bennet continued.

Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert, who represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional district, blamed Hickenlooper and Bennet for not doing enough to keep the headquarters in Grand Junction.

“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. Today’s rushed decision isn’t about helping western communities,” she said in a statement. “While I’m disappointed with today’s decision and the details are light, 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.”

Both Colorado Democrats and Republicans supported the move to the Western Slope

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement: “The bottom line is that more senior BLM officials and decision-makers moving to the Grand Junction office is a good thing for Colorado and our country. The initial presence was far too small and now I’m finally hopeful that the office will grow.”

Colorado’s former Republican U.S senator Cory Gardner and other leaders in the state helped court the agency to move its headquarters back in 2019. Gardner frequently highlighted the Trump administration’s decision during his failed bid to win reelection. 

“The problem with Washington is too many policymakers are far removed from the people they are there to serve,” said Gardner in 2019 when the decision was announced. “Ninety-nine percent of the land the BLM manages is West of the Mississippi River, and so should be the BLM headquarters. This is a victory for local communities, advocates for public lands, and proponents for a more responsible and accountable federal government.”

Still many in Colorado are hopeful that this latest decision won’t mean a loss of jobs. The pandemic meant many employees were already working remotely. 

Some say the move to the Western Slope weakened BLM, while others say it was a good economic opportunity for Colorado

Bob Moore was the Colorado state director for the BLM in the 1990s. He was never supportive of the headquarters leaving Washington DC. He said many employees already live outside of the DC area.

“And they live and work and have established offices in field locations all over the west,” Moore said. 

He said the agency would be at a disadvantage if top officials were remote.

“If you're not at the table, you're on the menu. That's what happens when BLM isn't there to represent its organization in meetings with the Congress and other organizations. And so it just doesn't work to try and have the headquarters of a national organization anywhere, but Washington D.C.,” Moore said. 

However, Kristi Burton Brown, the head of Colorado’s state GOP, blasted Haaland’s move and said it would hurt the state economically. 

“It’s absolutely pathetic that Bennet and Hickenlooper have stood by, done nothing, and supported the Democrat nominees who made this anti-Colorado decision,” Brown said. “Ninety-nine percent of the Bureau of Land Management's public lands are located in the West, and this decision proves that Democrats will always prioritize D.C. bureaucrats over taxpaying Americans.”

CPR's Stina Sieg contributed to this report.