The Washington Post:
The Trump administration plans to relocate most of the Bureau of Land Management’s D.C. workforce to west of the Rockies, part of its broader push to shift power away from Washington and shrink the size of the federal government.
The proposal to move roughly 300 employees from a key Interior Department agency — among them the majority of top managers — comes as Trump officials are forcibly reassigning career officials and upending operations across the federal government. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue finalized plans this summer to move about 550 jobs at two of his department’s scientific agencies from the nation’s capital to greater Kansas City. The White House is trying to abolish the Office of Personnel Management, the government’s human resources agency, and has threatened to furlough as many as 150 employees if Congress blocks it.
“The problem with Washington is too many policy makers are far removed from the people they are there to serve,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said in a statement supporting the land agency’s move. “Ninety-nine percent of the land the BLM manages is West of the Mississippi River, and so should be the BLM headquarters.”
But opponents argue that abrupt decisions to relocate or reassign federal workers have not been justified by sufficient analysis, can disrupt families’ lives and already have cost the government valuable expertise. BLM has about 360 employees in Washington, many of them supervisors, with 95 percent of its 9,260 employees working in the field.
“If I wanted to dismantle an agency, this would be in my playbook,” said Steve Ellis, who retired as BLM’s deputy director in 2016 after nearly four decades in government service. In a phone interview Monday, he said that transferring so many employees out of Washington could complicate the agency’s relationship with Capitol Hill, budget officials and other federal entities.
He noted that Interior dispatched all of its wildfire and aviation staff to Boise, Idaho, in the 1990s only to reestablish a wildland fire office in the District when lawmakers expected briefings after fires broke out in the West.
“It’s important for these agencies to have a meaningful footprint in D.C.,” Ellis said.
Margaret Weichert, Office of Management and Budge deputy director for management, said in a statement that the move will make the government more efficient and “better serve the American people.”
In a shift long sought by conservatives, Trump’s government has shed thousands of employees overall since he took office, with gains at the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs but an exodus of civil servants at several other agencies, including Labor, Education, and Housing and Urban Development.
Jason A. Briefel, head of the Senior Executive Association that represents 6,000 top government leaders, said it is worth having a public conversation about how to reorganize different agencies. But he questioned whether the Trump administration has made a solid business case for some of these decisions.
“This isn’t just an Interior issue,” he said in an interview. “This is a government-wide issue.”
Some of the BLM employees slated for a job transfer will move to Grand Junction, Colo., according to three federal officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the decision has not been formally announced. But some of the affected workers — who include some top officials, Senior Executive Service staffers and low-level managers — will move to other cities in the West.
Interior officials have been eyeing a possible move for BLM, which manages more than 10 percent of the nation’s land, for more than two years. A handful of Western states, such as Colorado and Utah, have sought to recruit the agency. …
The idea of shifting the bureau west has received the support of some lawmakers, including the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, Rob Bishop (Utah), as well as Gardner and Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.). In March 2018, the two senators from Colorado urged then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to look at the city lying roughly 280 miles west of Denver.
Bishop said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt is “promoting a thoughtful, methodical approach.”
But House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) accused Bernhardt of being secretive about his plans. Bernhardt’s hometown of Rifle, Colo., is not far from Grand Junction.
“Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt’s hometown just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability,” Grijalva said. “The agency will lose a lot of good people because of this move, and I suspect that’s the administration’s real goal here.”