Home Secretary Deb Haaland is moving the national headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management to the nation’s capital after two years in Colorado, overturning the decision by former President Donald Trump’s administration to move the agency closer to the region that ‘she dessert.
The land management office, which oversees nearly a fifth of the nation’s public land, lost nearly 300 employees to retire or resign after its headquarters moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, in 2019. Grand Junction will be renamed “the agency’s western headquarters,” Haaland said in a press release, and “have an important role to play in the office’s clean energy, outdoor recreation, conservation and scientific missions.” .
With control of 245 million acres, the agency has broad influence over energy development and agriculture in the western United States, managing public lands for uses ranging from fossil fuel extraction, the development of renewable energies and grazing, recreation and wilderness.
Trump’s First Home Secretary Ryan Zinke kicked off the headquarters move west and called it a necessary reorganization that brings senior officials of the agency closer to the public lands it oversees. The move was completed under David Bernhardt, who took over from Zinke in 2019.
Critics said the Trump administration intended to gut the agency and pointed to the number of people who refused to be transferred to Colorado as evidence of the administration’s attempt to get rid of career employees . A similar mass exodus occurred after two Department of Agriculture research agencies were moved from Washington to Kansas City, Missouri, under Trump.
Haaland, who opposed the BLM’s decision as a congressman from New Mexico, visited Colorado headquarters in July after being confirmed as secretary of the interior.
Colorado’s top Democrats, including Gov. Jared Polis and members of the state’s congressional delegation, wanted the seat to remain in Grand Junction. US Democratic Senator John Hickenlooper said Haaland’s decision to maintain a presence at Grand Junction “will help ensure that we have a fully functioning agency that understands the West.”
To be successful, the Western Headquarters “must be a strong, ongoing presence that engages the community and adds Western perspective and value to the BLM’s mission,” Hickenlooper said. The Trump administration has “scattered jobs” across the region and only assigned a few dozen positions to “a shell headquarters in Grand Junction,” Hickenlooper added.
Haaland said in his statement that the past few years “have been incredibly disruptive for the organization, for our officials and for their families.”
“There is no doubt that the BLM should have a prominent presence in Washington, DC – like all other land management agencies – to ensure it has access to the political, budgetary and decision-making levers to lead to well its mission. ” she said. BLM’s presence in Colorado and the West will continue to grow, she added.
Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said the office does not need two headquarters.
“The Biden administration’s response to anything is to double the size of government,” Barrasso said. “The sole seat of the Bureau of Land Management belongs to the West, closer to the resources it manages and the people it serves.
What the BLM needs “from an honest director who doesn’t shame the agency,” Barrasso said, referring to Presidential candidate Joe Biden to head the office, former Democratic assistant Tracy Stone-Manning, who received no Republican support in an energy panel vote on his appointment in July. Barrasso and other GOP senators blasted Stone-Manning for alleged links to a 1989 environmental sabotage investigation.
Stone-Manning will face a full Senate vote in order to become the new director. Every Senate Republican and at least one Democratic lawmaker would need to block their confirmation in the equally divided chamber. Haaland, who is believed to be Stone-Manning’s boss, reiterated his full support for the candidate during his visit to Colorado.