The Trump administration is moving the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction, CO. However, reports are coming in that many staffers who are being reassigned are opting to quit rather than move out West.

U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt defended the move Friday. Opponents have projected that the number of Bureau of Land Management staffers agreeing to move from headquarters could be as low as 15%, which Bernhardt said was “not consistent with what I’ve seen.”

Speaking at a Las Vegas conference on Colorado River water supplies, Bernhardt said he did not immediately have firmer figures, however.

“A year from now … you’re going to find out that it worked really well,” Bernhardt told reporters.

Critics of the move complain there is going to be a “brain drain” of experienced staffers. The relocation has become another struggle between bureaucratic policy priorities and the administration’s goals and visions.

[Bob] Moore, who worked at the BLM for 40 years and retired as its state director, has heard talk of moving the agency for decades. But talk was all it was. Until now.

At a time when there’s been an unprecedented focus on energy production from the Trump administration, he sees the moves as part of a larger agenda that worries him as areas are opened up to oil and gas leasing that were previously deemed too sensitive.

“The fewer BLM employees they have in Washington, the simpler it is for the political appointees in Washington to make those kinds of decisions,” he said.

But in Grand Junction, soon to be home to more than two dozen BLM top-level employees, many local leaders want to keep politics out of it. Robin Brown, head of Grand Junction Economic Partnership, has been part of the push to get the BLM to her town since the Obama administration.

“It’s disappointing that it’s become such a partisan issue and that it’s become a tool for each of the sides to beat each other up over, when it never started out that way,” she said.

Former and current Govs. John Hickenlooper and Jared Polis, both Democrats, support the move. But as this has gone from a pipe dream to near-reality, outside of Colorado, more and more prominent Democrats have questioned it, while more and more Republicans have championed it. When the BLM leased office space in the same building as oil and gas companies, opponents of the move cried foul. But Robin Brown thinks that misses the point.

“Because we want the BLM employees and the BLM directors and the people making land policy decisions to know our oil and gas companies,” she said.

BLM is offering impacted employees early retirement and buyouts. There look to be plenty of potential takers.

One Washington staffer told Government Executive just three of the 25 employees on their team have accepted the reassignment. Another former employee who has since left the agency for a new job but still keeps in touch with many former colleagues said they only know of two who agreed to move.

…BLM employees have told Government Executive that even some of those who have accepted their reassignments are still looking for jobs in Washington and will come back home as soon as possible. Many employees have already found new jobs and left the agency. The workers all suggested morale at the Washington office has plummeted, mistrust of leadership has grown and a sinking feeling that the Trump administration is seeking to sideline important work has set in.

The BLM staffers who are complaining about the relocation don’t seem to be getting much sympathy.


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