As Haaland implements plans to ‘rebuild’ Bureau of Land Management, Cox complains of federal overreach

In this April 2021 file photo, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks while Utah Gov. Spencer Cox looks on during a news conference in Blanding, Utah, following a visit to Bears Ears National Monument, April 8, 2021 | Associated Press photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — In a press release issued last week by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland outlined steps that the Department plans to take to rebuild and strengthen the Bureau of Land Management following years of transition and upheaval among the workforce.

In this April 2021 file photo, U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland tours near ancient dwellings along the Butler Wash trail during a visit to Bears Ears National Monument, near Blanding, Utah, April 8, 2021 | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

The news release states that these changes, which will be done in coordination with Congress, will improve the function of the bureau, help provide clarity for the BLM’s more than 7,000 employees across the country, maintain and increase access for stakeholders and enable the bureau to better serve the American public and fulfill its mission as the steward of nearly one-fifth of the nation’s public land.

In a meeting with BLM employees last Friday, Haaland announced her intention to restore the BLM national headquarters to Washington, D.C., ensuring the bureau has a presence in the nation’s capital. Under this plan, the BLM’s current presence in Grand Junction, Colo., will grow and expand as the bureau’s official Western headquarters.

This office will reinforce western perspectives in decision-making and have an important role to play in the bureau’s clean energy, outdoor recreation, conservation and scientific missions, among other important work as a leadership center in the West, according to the press release.

However, this decision was met Tuesday by Gov. Spencer Cox and Lt. Gov. Diedre Henderson who issued the following statement in a letter sent to Haaland:

We are profoundly disappointed with the Administration’s decision to move BLM’s headquarters back to Washington, D.C., thousands of miles away from the BLM lands and the people who bear the brunt of the agency’s decisions. Such a move represents the very worst of federal overreach and Beltway bureaucracy – further empowering unelected officials in the nation’s capital to exercise authority over huge swaths of the country with minimal accountability to impacted states, tribes, local government, and the communities that depend on these landscapes. The Administration’s decision is an affront to western states who have worked tirelessly with locally-based BLM personnel to better conserve and actively manage western landscapes in the face of drought, climate change, catastrophic wildfires, and other challenges.

Read the entire letter here.

Haaland said in the release that the BLM is critical to the nation’s efforts to address the climate crisis, expand public access to our public lands and preserve the nation’s shared outdoor heritage. As such, she said it is imperative that the bureau have the appropriate structure and resources to serve the American public.

In this file photo, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland speaks during a news briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., April 23, 2021 | Associated Press photo by Evan Vucci, St. George News

“There’s no doubt that the BLM should have a leadership presence in Washington, D.C. – like all the other land management agencies – to ensure that it has access to the policy-, budget-, and decision-making levers to best carry out its mission. In addition, the BLM’s robust presence in Colorado and across the West will continue to grow,” she said.

Haaland added that the past several years have been incredibly disruptive to the organization, public servants and their families.

“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. “I look forward to continuing to work with Congress, Tribes, elected officials and the many stakeholders who care about the stewardship of our shared public lands and healthy communities.”

The Department intends to locate the Bureau Director and other key leadership positions in the national headquarters where they can ensure coordination with Congress, other federal agencies and stakeholders that visit Washington, D.C. Additional senior personnel will operate from the Western headquarters, as part of the more than 95% of BLM employees that are already located outside of Washington, D.C.

(L-R) In this file photo, Rep. Burgess Owens, Lt. Gov Deidre Henderson, U.S. interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Rep. Chris Stewart and Sen. Mike Lee pose for a photo during Haaland’s visit to Utah concerning the lingering boundary issue attached to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments to their original boundaries, Utah, April 7-9, 2021 | Photo courtesy of the office of Rep. Chris Stewart, St. George News

The Secretary’s vision for the BLM comes after substantive engagement with employees, Tribal consultations and meetings with local, state and federal leaders. The Secretary visited Grand Junction in July, and pledged to provide clarity and direction. Additional logistics and planning will occur in the months to come in close coordination with BLM employees, Congress, Tribes and elected leaders.

The Department plans to take a number of additional steps, in coordination with leaders in Congress, to ensure that the BLM is best positioned to serve the American public. This includes establishing a new BLM Foundation – as authorized in legislation – to support the bureau’s efforts and to help build new partnerships. The BLM will strengthen the government-to-government relationship with Indian Tribes by supporting Tribal Liaisons in each state. The BLM will also seek to improve coordination and capacity to implement clean energy projects.

The previous administration relocated the BLM headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., a move that the release says failed to deliver promised jobs across the West and drove hundreds of people out of the agency. Of the 328 positions moved out of Washington, D.C., only 41 of the affected people relocated, with three moving to Grand Junction.

This led to a significant loss of institutional memory and talent. The headquarters transition will be conducted with a goal of minimizing further disruption to employees and their families. Outside of the aforementioned core leadership positions, the BLM does not plan to require employees to relocate.

St. George News contributed to this story.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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