9 numbers that explain the BLM’s headquarters boomerang back to D.C.

A look at what happened to the reorganization of the agency under the Trump administration.


Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) visited Grand Junction, Colorado, last July to discuss wildfires in the state and the agency’s move to the city. Haaland recently announced that the agency headquarters will move back to Washington D.C.
McKenzie Lange/The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel via AP

When Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, (Laguna Pueblo) announced last week that the Department of Interior would be moving the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management from Grand Junction, Colorado, back to Washington, D.C., it marked the end of a short-lived and difficult chapter in the agency’s history.

In 2019, in an effort to reconfigure the BLM, the Trump administration decided to move the agency headquarters away from the nation’s capital and to relocate hundreds of BLM employees — many of them high-ranking — to Western states as part of an agency-wide reorganization. At the time, agency officials said that the move would bring decision-makers closer to the local communities they serve. (The BLM manages approximately 245 million acres of public lands, mostly in the Western United States.) But many protested that reasoning, since the vast majority of the agency’s employees were already located in the West. In the end, hundreds of federal employees opted to retire or change jobs instead of relocating.

“The past several years have been incredibly disruptive to the organization, to our public servants, and to their families,” said Secretary Haaland in last week’s press release. “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.”

Haaland said the Colorado office will now become the official Western headquarters rather than the agency headquarters.

Below, a few numbers that show how the reorganization impacted the agency and its employees:

Total number of full-time employees at the BLM at the end of 2020.

Decline in Interior Department employees between 2017-2020. 

Percentage of the BLM workforce that was already located in the Western U.S. before the reorganization. 

Number of positions expected to move to the West during the reorganization of the agency under the Trump administration.

Number of employees who chose to relocate.

Number of employees who were supposed to end up at the Grand Junction headquarters.

Number of employees who actually ended up in the Grand Junction headquarters.  

Amount, in dollars, allocated for the Interior Department’s reorganization of the BLM in fiscal year 2019

Amount, in dollars, allocated in the 2020 budget to reorganize the Interior Department to pay for the move of headquarters staff to the West among other priorities developed under the plan.

 We are investigating how the BLM move has impacted agency expertise, retention and culture beyond the Trump administration. If you are a former or current employee who would be interested in speaking securely with an HCN reporter, please consider emailing us at [email protected] or [email protected], or by using an encrypted messaging app.

Jessica Kutz is an assistant editor for High Country News. We welcome reader letters. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor. See our letters to the editor policy.

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