INTERIOR

Biden insiders: Return BLM to D.C.

A coalition of climate experts hoping to guide President-elect Joe Biden's transition team has suggested big changes for the Bureau of Land Management, including reversing the Trump administration's relocation of its headquarters to Colorado.

The Climate 21 Project team, in a memo outlining specific changes needed at the Interior Department, said the Biden administration should "bring BLM national leadership back to Washington" on day one.

The memo said bringing the agency's headquarters back to the District of Columbia would "boost employee morale" after "four years of targeted political interference and efforts to cut budgets and demoralize and drive out career staff."

E&E News first reported Monday that the Biden transition team has made moving BLM's headquarters back to Washington a priority (Greenwire, Nov. 9). Sources told E&E News that the plan will include trying to rehire or transfer senior career staff that left BLM for other Interior positions in Washington as a result of the move back to the bureau.

The memo — written by former Obama Council on Environmental Quality Managing Director Christy Goldfuss and Alexandra Teitz, a former counselor to the BLM director — said that within "the first three weeks of the new administration" the agency should send the White House Office of Management and Budget "requests for funding" to move the BLM headquarters.

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Interior, it said, "should request the funds necessary to immediately begin reversing damage to BLM by returning its headquarters and at least some staff to Washington."

The memo is part of a broader climate action plan unveiled yesterday that would involve agencies and departments across the federal government (Greenwire, Nov. 11).

But it clearly states that a top objective of the Biden administration is to change business at BLM.

It sets a high priority on nominating and winning Senate approval of a new Interior secretary and, close behind, the nomination and confirmation of a new BLM director — for the first time in four years.

The Trump BLM never had a permanent director, instead sifting through a series of temporary leaders, including BLM Deputy Director of Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley.

Montana District Chief Judge Brian Morris issued a recent order ruling that Pendley had served "unlawfully" as BLM's de facto acting director for 424 days and barred him from continuing to do so (Greenwire, Sept. 25).

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was the chief architect of the BLM headquarters move, saying it would help the bureau manage public lands by placing senior leadership closer to the 245 million acres it oversees largely in the West.

Bernhardt made Pendley the face of the move, and Pendley insisted for months that most of the BLM Washington staffers were going to move to Grand Junction, Colo.

But BLM has refused to make public how many of its 174 career staffers ultimately agreed to move to the new headquarters and to other BLM state offices across the West. The bureau conceded earlier this year that close to two-thirds of those staffers left; they transferred to other Interior Department positions in Washington, retired or resigned.

BLM completed the move this summer, with Bernhardt signing a secretarial order establishing the Robert F. Burford Bureau of Land Management Headquarters in Grand Junction (Greenwire, Aug. 10).

The General Services Administration in September 2019 signed a five-year lease for 6,000 square feet of office space, on three floors, at 760 Horizon Drive in Grand Junction, which is about 240 miles west of Denver.

BLM plans to keep that office as a regional office, sources told E&E News.

The headquarters move, and the loss of numerous top-level career staffers, has been a major source of concern for the Public Lands Foundation, a BLM retirees group that strongly opposed the relocation.

"The PLF supports the BLM leadership being returned to Washington, D.C.," said Ed Shepard, PLF's president.

"We have long held that the BLM needs a strong leadership presence in Washington, D.C., where they can support the administration's priorities by collaborating with sister agencies, the secretary's office and the Congress," said Shepard, who retired in 2012 after a 38-year career at BLM.

"The recent move to Colorado has created a lot of upheaval and disruption in the organization," he added, "and I would encourage the department's new political leadership to work with their career leaders to make any reorganizational moves so as to minimize further disruption."

Email: sstreater@eenews.net

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