The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee said yesterday the "next step" in the panel’s back-and-forth with the Bureau of Land Management over its proposal to move its headquarters out of Washington, D.C., is a subpoena.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva told reporters that acting BLM Director William Perry Pendley’s appearance before his committee yesterday morning to defend the transfer of hundreds of employees and jobs out West "validated some things we have been considering and also justifies us going further in the consideration of a subpoena to get those reorganization papers."
The Arizona Democrat has threatened before to issue a subpoena to the department for relocation information, including specifics related to costs and personnel, but so far has stopped short of doing so.
"I think it’s time now to press the point," Grijalva said, adding that to date he’s been deferring to staff "on due diligence" in making the case.
"But there’s also a point where if we’re not going to get, at the minimum, some respect from Interior and from the administration, then we have to use those [other] means, as well," he said. "That’s kind of where we’re at now."
Pendley yesterday calmly defended the BLM plan to relocate the agency’s headquarters to Grand Junction, Colo., and nearly 300 jobs to offices in various Western states. He also defended his own past controversial writings and statements about transferring federal lands (Greenwire, Sept. 10).
The Wyoming native said top department leadership worked closely and methodically to identify which jobs and people should stay in the nation’s capital and which should be relocated to "get the most bang for the buck to serve the American people."
California Democratic Rep. T.J. Cox told Pendley during the hearing that a "cost-benefit analysis" for the relocation had not been provided to the committee. He asked the acting BLM chief to commit to providing one, as well as "the position-by-position analysis that you referenced."
Pendley said he’d "defer to congressional and legislative affairs. I will submit your question to them for them to respond."
Praise, suspicion of Pendley
Natural Resources Republicans yesterday hailed the headquarters relocation proposal, saying it will bring BLM — an agency where more than 90% of the workforce already works out West — closer to the lands it manages and make it more accountable to the public.
"Does BLM work for and with Congress, or do they work for the American people?" asked Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, who said the move would make the agency more — not less — effective. "If they work for the American people, doesn’t it make sense that they are located where the lands are administered on behalf of the people are located? I think it does."
The panel’s top Republican, Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, commended Pendley’s Capitol Hill performance.
"As a lawyer, in a courtroom, it played well for him out there," said Bishop after the hearing, referring to Pendley’s legal background and experience.
"Get every damn one out there where they belong," Bishop said when asked about the relocation. He added: "There is no reason to have this agency, which was never designed to be an administrative agency, there’s no reason whatsoever to keep them in Washington, D.C. Absolutely none."
Bishop said that sentiment "came through" in Pendley’s testimony.
Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar told E&E News the move would help in "breaking up the swamp [and] making government more reactive and responsible to the American people."
"Last time I looked, no one is guaranteed a job," the Arizona Republican said. "I’m not guaranteed a job. Neither are any of the federal employees."
Pendley reiterated yesterday that 61 jobs will stay in Washington: positions dealing with Congress, public affairs and budget matters, among others.
But Democrats including Grijalva, Minnesota Rep. Betty McCollum and Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico view the relocation as a thinly veiled attempt to dismantle the agency.
McCollum leads the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, while Udall is the ranking member of the same committee in the upper chamber.
Grijalva said he would work with appropriators to "deny money" for relocation and broader reorganization efforts. This is one of the few options available to opponents of the department’s plan.
Congress gave the department $5.6 million for the relocation in fiscal 2019, part of a total $14 million Interior received for its proposed management overhaul. The fiscal 2020 Interior spending bill in the House does not include any funds related to the BLM relocation or Interior’s larger reorganization plan.
"That’s all we have, other than chaining ourselves to the plane and not letting them leave," the chairman said. "I mean, we’re kind of down to minimal options." He added, however, that "it’s still worth the effort" for Congress to deploy the tools at its disposal.