Senior officials in the Trump administration confirmed that most of the Department of Land Management will be moved out of Washington D.C. by the end of the year under the Interior Department’s new reorganization plan.
The Washington Post reported that Interior assistant secretary Joe Balash sent a 17-page letter to members of Congress detailing the plan to move 84 percent of the department west of the Rockies. Colorado will receive 85 reassigned positions, the most of any state.
Officials are looking to relocate staffers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey, but the department has not done as comprehensive an analysis of those moves.
The proposal is to move 300 employees from a “key Interior Department agency, among them the majority of top managers,” according to the Stars and Stripes.
The move was praised by some as part of President Trump’s push to shift power away from Washington and shrink the size of the government, while others worried that it would weaken the department’s voice on Capitol Hill.
National Marine Manufacturers Association president Thom Dammrich welcomed the news.
“Reorganizing and streamlining the Bureau of Land Management in a manner that will make the agency more effective at managing our public lands, including many top outdoor recreation areas, is a laudable undertaking,” Dammrich told Trade Only Today in an email. “We will continue to monitor BLM’s restructuring as more details unfold and work with the administration to ensure the outdoor recreation community’s needs are addressed in this effort.”
Balash wrote to Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee on interior and environment, that the plan delegates more responsibility and authority “down to the field.” Balash also argued that it was more cost-effective since it placed BLM staff closer to the resources it protects.
"The problem with Washington is too many policy makers are far removed from the people they are there to serve," Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said in a statement supporting the agency's move, according to Stars and Stripes. "Ninety-nine percent of the land the BLM manages is West of the Mississippi River, and so should be the BLM headquarters.”
Although Balash provided an estimated cost benefit of the reassignments — at least $50 million over 20 years — there was no analysis of the price of the actual move beyond $5.6 million for the first 27 employees who volunteer, according to The Washington Post.
At least one staffer said there was a lot of employee tension in the room during what they said was an “unsettling” announcement.
“The best part of my job is my co-workers, and they are working to tear us apart for purely political reasons,” the anonymous attendee told the paper, “I’m sick to my stomach.”
Other employees embraced the news, according to the same participant, because they are eager to leave Washington.
Kate Kelly, public lands director for the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, questioned in an email why the administration would reassign nearly all of the bureau’s D.C. staff when 95 percent of them already work out in the field.
“The true impact of this move is to make the agency and its leadership invisible in a city where — like it or not — the decisions about budgets and policies are made,” Kelly told the paper. “The constant shuffling, shrinking and disassembling of BLM’s workforce will have long-term implications for the health of the agency.”