As BLM Moves Westward, Critics Say Step May Neutralize Agency

Jan 10, 2020

The Bureau of Land Management has begun its move to Grand Junction, Colorado, a move the Trump administration said will put the agency closer to the western lands it oversees. However, opponents are saying being far from the nation's capital may actually hurt the BLM's capacity to manage public lands.
Credit Bob Wick/ BLM

The Bureau of Land Management's headquarters began its move West this month, but that hasn't ended controversy over the change. 

The Trump administration said the BLM’s move to Grand Junction, Colorado, will put the agency closer to the nearly 250-million acres of public land it oversees, the vast majority of which are in western states like Utah and Idaho. 

But public lands expert and Boise State University Professor John Freemuth believes the move will neutralize the agency, leaving key people out of decision-making in Washington, D.C.

"So they interact with Congress, with other agencies in the government, interest groups, and they can have conversations right there in main Interior -- rather than be out somewhere in the West, where those conversations are going on, but they're not there,” Freemuth said. “They're not at the table to have them."

About 150 employees received orders to relocate. The agency expects the move to be complete by mid-spring. Sixty employees will stay in the nation's capital, most of whom are politically appointed officials, Freemuth said.

Freemuth said reorganization doesn't have to be a bad thing -- but in this case, he said, BLM leadership wasn't consulted on the move. Employees were simply told it was happening. Freemuth pointed out that the relocation has put many staffers in a tough spot, who have already put down roots in D.C.

"They have families, their spouses have jobs, and you can't just tell somebody to pick up and move that easily,” Freemuth said.

In the end, Freemuth doesn't believe this move will work out for the BLM.

"BLM's leadership, I would predict, will return to Washington at some time in the future,” Freemuth said. “So, we're ending up thinking, 'Boy, we just whipsawed a lot of people and what was the real reason for that?' you know, ten years down the road. But we'll see what happens."