Bernhardt Defends ‘On Track’ BLM Reorganization, Relocation

Bernhardt Defends
Bernhardt defends Interior public records review policy.

The head of the Interior Department, Secretary David Bernhardt, has defended the decision to relocate the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquarters to western Colorado.

He affirmed that the agency is progressing as planned to address public land management needs. Secretary Bernhardt expressed the positive response from field workers to the 2019 move of BLM’s headquarters and highlighted the high quality of applicants seeking to join the agency in Colorado and the broader Western region.

The relocation and the agency’s reorganization, initiated in 2017 under former Secretary Ryan Zinke, were discussed during a hearing in the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources.

Additionally, the proposed budget for the Department of the Interior for Fiscal Year 2021 was reviewed during the hearing.

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“Secretary Bernhardt, I want to start by saying thank you for the Interior Department’s commitment to Colorado priorities,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.). “Yesterday, I introduced the Great American Outdoors Act to provide full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is a historic opportunity for conservation and environmental protection, and it wouldn’t be possible without the support from the Administration.”

“I look forward to this chamber’s bipartisan passage as quickly as possible,” Gardner said.

Gardner added his gratitude for the relocation of the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo. in 2019 so Americans “can have the decision makers grounded in the communities where those decisions have the most impact and the most effect.”

“If the BLM was headquartered out West, you would understand why so many county commissioners had a challenge or problem or questions,” Gardner said, referring to a conversation with BLM staff years earlier under the Obama administration. This will make a “crucial difference” for western states, he continued.

Secretary David Bernhardt confirmed that the relocation of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquarters was proceeding as planned, and the agency was actively accepting applications for open positions.

He informed the Senate Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee that approximately 45 percent of BLM employees had agreed to relocate, with others opting for retirement or accepting different positions within the Interior Department.

Bernhardt expressed a commitment to assisting those seeking positions elsewhere within the department or in the federal government.

In contrast to those who chose not to relocate, Bernhardt highlighted the exceptional quality and quantity of applicants for positions in the new Colorado headquarters and across the western region.

Senator Gardner emphasized that a cost-benefit analysis would demonstrate the move’s wisdom, arguing that dollars are spent more efficiently by having public land managers and the agency’s headquarters in the western United States.

He pointed to other federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and Centers for Disease Control, which operate significant offices outside of Washington, D.C.

“They all do incredible work and I believe they are more responsive to the communities they serve because they are out of Washington, D.C.,” he added.

“I think the people who are most thrilled about this [BLM relocation],” Bernhardt responded, “are our folks in BLM in the field.”

According to the head of the Interior Department, the enthusiasm for the reorganization and relocation is readily apparent and easily understood.

“When I walk into a field office and start talking about this, they immediately start clapping,” Bernhardt said.

Recently, a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was delivered to U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. The GAO report concluded that the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) reorganization analysis was incomplete.

“Based on documents we reviewed, BLM considered some costs and benefits of the reorganization, but its analyses did not include complete information on assumptions, methodology, and relevant costs,” GAO auditors wrote. Grijalva requested the report in 2019.

The newly established headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is responsible for overseeing nearly 250 million acres of federally managed land throughout the United States. This jurisdiction is concentrated among 12 western states, including Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming.

As reported by E&ENews, officials from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) intend to persist in their audit of BLM’s plans for the future.

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