Dozens of former BLM officials denounce moving headquarters out of D.C.

‘You’re setting up the BLM for failure.’

 

Two Bureau of Land Management rangers walk in the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, located 20 miles outside of Grand Junction, Colorado. Grand Junction was selected as the new headquarters for the BLM.

This story was originally published by Colorado Public Radio and is republished with permission.

As Grand Junction gets ready to welcome the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management, dozens of former BLM top officials are speaking out against the move, saying it will deeply wound the agency’s effectiveness. 

“We would like people to take a harder look at this, including Congress,” said Elaine Zielinski, former BLM director in Arizona and Oregon. 

Zielinksi, who started her BLM career in Colorado in 1977, is one of 30 retired BLM senior leaders — mostly from the West — who have signed a letter to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, urging him to reconsider moving BLM’s headquarters out of Washington, D.C. 

This fall, 27 top officials are slated to move to Grand Junction, while hundreds of others will be shifted from the nation’s capital to various posts across the West. Only a few BLM employees will remain in Washington.

Zielinksi thinks this “dismantling” of the agency’s headquarters in unnecessary, as 97% of BLM employees are already based outside of Washington. She believes the 3% in the Capital are vital to explain issues to key decision makers and give the agency a consistent presence.

Without them, “You’re setting up the BLM  for failure,” she said. 

The letter attacks the Interior Department’s explanations for the move point by point, including cost savings (which the signees say there’s no proof of) and deepening the agency’s understanding of the West (which the signees say is not needed, as there are already thousands of employees working in the region). 

But proponents of the move say these fears are overblown. Colorado’s Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, who has been fighting for the new headquarters for years, said it is important to get the agency’s top brass closer to the people and the land they oversee. 

“We will have better, more responsive decision makings and a stronger public land protection because of this move,” said Gardner, who added that some of the people against this change might have been campaigning for the BLM to come to their own state. 

He also brushed aside concerns that that moving BLM employees out of Washington could lead to “brain drain,” with some staff choosing to quit instead of moving

“I think that if you’re a public land employee, and you don’t want to live and work in the public lands that you manage and oversee, then maybe you should find a different way to work,” Gardner said.

But veteran BLM employees like Zielinksi stress that losing most of that small core of Washington-based employees could harm the inner workings of the agency, and could lead to decisions being made in D.C. without the agency’s input.  

Zielinksi worries about a hidden agenda behind the move, and the fate of the agency.

She said she can’t help but think that the goal is to make the agency so dysfunctional “that the BLM will really be destroyed.”

Stina Sieg is Colorado Public Radio’s Western Slope reporter. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

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