Last week the House committee on natural resources met to discuss whether the BLM should move its headquarters to Grand Junction, CO, and reorganize the entire BLM D.C. bureaucracy. It was clear that the majority in the hearing—Democrats—were more interested in making a political statement rather than look at the merits of moving the organization headquarters to the middle of the land they manage.
William Perry Pendley, the new director of the BLM, has a well know background as an advocate for responsible utilization of public lands and defending private property rights with the Mountain States Legal Foundation. He is no stranger to BLM land use issues. Some would say that his appointment to the BLM is like hiring the fox to guard the hen house. But administrations change and policy issues change with them.
Pendley testified before the committee and explained exactly how the move would work, and how much it would save the Department of Interior. BLM currently has 550 employees in two different offices in the D.C. area. They plan on dispersing employees to various state BLM offices that are already working on state specific issues. They would leave 61 employees in D.C. that deal with administrative, government affairs, political, and other policy issues. Those employees will move to the current DOI headquarters building.
They will also move 27 top-level program administrators and support staff to Grand Junction, CO. The idea is to get the services resource users need closer to the land they manage and become part of the community, rather than work in a vacuum as they currently do.
I would imagine that if you ask folks on the East Coast what the BLM is, they would respond “Black Lives Matter.” But let’s be real—Does the primary agency for western land management really need to be in the nation’s capital on the East Coast?
One other element prompting the move is that the lease on the current office space expires on December 31, 2020. Office space in D.C. is expensive; over $50 per square foot per year. They can secure office space in Grand Junction for less than half of what they currently pay. Also, labor markets are different, and the cost of travel would be dramatically less expensive. BLM spends 3.2 million a year on travel alone. The new location puts most everything BLM oversees with in a two-day drive. And with modern communications, nobody needs to be in the same building.
BLM and the other land agencies seem to have finally got it through their heads that being local makes for better collaborative decisions and having decision making members of BLM engaged in the community would enhance their performance. They would better understand that one policy decision doesn’t fit all situations.
The opposition to the move were clearly more concerned about politics and that they couldn’t give the Trump administration any kind of win here. Folks in the West certainly think differently than their eastern counterparts. We do know what’s good for western economic development without destroying the environment. One congressman even had to ask if Grand Junction had adequate internet services, thinking that Grand Junction is some podunk town in the wilderness.
Logistics didn’t seem to mean much for the dissenters of the move. BLM employees have been polled and at least half said they wouldn’t make the move. Every time a company makes a decision like this there is going to be some fall out, usually clerical people. And I understand that there are many motivations for not moving. But most top-level managers who have made a career with the BLM should move.
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that everyone is replaceable. It may not be the best for that person, but in government, everyone is replaceable. There was more concern about disrupting people’s lives rather that exercising sound business judgement. Status quo is how government agencies like to operate and that what we had during the last administration. Nothing really got done.
Moving BLM makes lots of sense. Get the agency closer to the people they serve. Be efficient where you can and its okay if you need some fresh faces. This is a small agency; the move will go relatively un-noticed. This move would also be good for Grand Junction’s economic development. Even Colorado’s Governor Polis even likes the idea. — PETE CROW