Zinke Clarifies DOI Considerations In Possible Relocation Of Bureaus Out West; **Update: Gardner, Bennet Invite Zinke To Grand Junction
This story was updated at 4:30 MDT.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke laid out the primary factors that will figure in any determination to move bureau headquarters from Washington, D.C. to communities in the West, citing affordability and quality of life.
Zinke delivered testimony on the Department of Interior’s FY 2019 budget before the House Natural Resources Committee just two days after a similar appearance before the Senate.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) asked Zinke to clarify aspects of his reorganization plan, including the possibility of moving certain Interior bureau main offices and sub-groups to the field in Western states, a move that has bipartisan support.
Zinke told Lamborn that the agency was looking to smaller communities to place new employees with attention to affordability and quality of life in advance of a burgeoning retirement age cadre of senior Interior and sub-agency officials. This could include office relocation and employee-level relocation to the various regional districts created as part of the reorganization, Zinke said.
He also emphasized working directly with Western governors on the reorganization maps and the retention of state directors within a new regional orientation and possible headquarters relocation.
“The governors out West felt pretty strongly that they wanted to maintain the BLM state directors,” Zinke said. He also pointed to the concentration of agency responsibilities in Western states as a consideration for reallocating more assets. “There are bureaus—Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Land Management—their primary activity is out West,” Zinke said.
Zinke told the committee, as he did Tuesday in the Senate, that rising costs of living in cities like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and even Denver was forcing the Interior department to consider smaller cities for “a better quality of life” as the agency’s aging workforce turns over in the next few years.
Referring to agency employee pay grades, Zinke said, “We’re going to have natural turnover. So when a GS-15 retires in Washington, D.C., we can reprogram it out in the field probably where it belongs, at a GS-5. And yes, we’re looking at smaller cities in each of these areas, not just the West.”
Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.) pressed Zinke on relocating the BLM headquarters to the West, calling Colorado a “prime location.” Tipton, along with U.S. Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), has introduced legislation calling for BLM to relocate offices to Western states. Tipton’s prime suggestion, Grand Junction, is located within his congressional district on Colorado’s Western slope.
“Quite frankly there are bureaus that we think are candidates to move out West because the preponderance of activity is West—BLM certainly, Bureau of Reclamation—we haven’t decided where we’ll go. But I think what we would do is create metrics on quality of life, good schools, hospitals, accommodations, those types of things, and target cities within these [regional] groups for candidates,” Zinke explained. The metrics might provide a way for cities to compete for the new offices.
“My concern is making sure we go to a community that is high quality of life, that is affordable for the GS-5/GS-7, great communities that we can compete for millennials who will want to be there. Colorado certainly fits that description,” Zinke said.
A March 15 letter to Zinke from a coalition of pro-business groups including Vital for Colorado, the Colorado Business Roundtable, South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce and the Colorado Farm Bureau called for support of the proposed relocation efforts. The groups said Colorado was “absolutely the right destination” with broad, bipartisan support within the state.
“Colorado’s unique economic and environmental attributes make it an ideal headquarters for any regulatory agency focused on Western lands,” the groups wrote.
They pitched the state as the “cost-effective choice” and energy powerhouse.
“Our state is a model for integrating natural resource development, agriculture, recreation, hunting, fishing and tourism into a diverse and thriving economy with many other sectors, including manufacturing, information technology, financial services, aerospace and healthcare,” the groups concluded.
Late Thursday afternoon, Gardner and U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) issued a joint invitation to Zinke to visit Grand Junction “as you search for the future home of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquarters.”
“We support moving the BLM to the West, and believe Grand Junction and Colorado’s West Slope have much to offer the Department of the Interior (DOI),” the senators wrote.
“We believe Grand Junction is the ideal location for the BLM headquarters. Grand Junction is centrally located and offers easy access to a major interstate and an expanding airport, and has existing federal facilities and infrastructure,” Gardner and Bennet wrote.
They also pointed to Zinke’s main priorities–reasonable cost-of-living and outstanding quality of life–as reasons to move the headquarters to Colorado’s Western slope.
Western Wire has reported as recently as two weeks ago the efforts by Tipton and Gardner to put forth a Colorado nominee for the relocation, focusing on Grand Junction. While Denver has also been discussed as a possible relocation destination, Zinke’s comments in today’s hearing appeared to indicate that Denver’s cost-of-living might exclude it in favor of a more regional option.