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With No Permanent Director in Office, Trump Directs BLM's Employees to Leave DC
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=51173"><span class="small">Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears, The Washington Post</span></a>   
Tuesday, 16 July 2019 13:46

Excerpt: "In an all-employee meeting Tuesday, senior Trump officials told Bureau of Land Management staffers that most of them must leave D.C. by the end of next year, under the Interior Department's reorganization plan."

David Bernhardt. (photo: UPI)
David Bernhardt. (photo: UPI)

With No Permanent Director in Office, Trump Directs BLM's Employees to Leave DC

By Juliet Eilperin and Darryl Fears, The Washington Post

16 July 19

The Interior Department will relocate 81 percent of headquarters staff to the West

n an all-employee meeting Tuesday, senior Trump officials told Bureau of Land Management staffers that most of them must leave D.C. by the end of next year, under the Interior Department’s reorganization plan.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt plans to move 81 percent of the agency’s headquarters staff west of the Rockies by 2020, his top deputies said Tuesday, according to a participant in the session who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation. The relocation represents a sweeping change to the agency that manages more than 10 percent of America’s land.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond, who has been running the bureau on an acting basis since May, told employees gathered at the agency’s 20 M St. office in Southeast Washington, confirming The Washington Post’s report on Monday that the administration will keep roughly 60 staffers in D.C. while moving the rest to the West.

A total of 27 leadership jobs will be relocated to Grand Junction, Colo., Hammond said, out of more than 300 employees transferred to the West. Seventy-four of the reassigned employees will report to BLM state directors instead of headquarters staff, he said, according to the meeting attendee.

Several lawmakers have already embraced the reorganization plan, including Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Republican Reps. Rob Bishop (Utah) and Scott R. Tipton (Colo.). In a statement Monday, Bishop said that he would work with Bernhardt to place the staffers moving to Utah in the right place.

“The BLM personnel will be moved where they will have a greater impact on, and input by, the people who live in the regions where their influence is greatest,” Bishop said. “Not by bureaucrats from thousands of miles away.”

But critics of the plan such as Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who chairs the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, said in a statement that it made no sense for the administration to unilaterally reorganize an agency when the president has yet to nominate a permanent director for BLM after more than two-and-a-half years in office.

“After my discussion with Secretary Bernhardt this morning, serious questions remain: What are the benefits to the Interior Department and to the American public? What problem will this move solve? Why is BLM singled out for this move? How much will the move cost?” McCollum asked. “Assuming the goal is to improve efficiency, streamline operations, and improve lines of communication, perhaps Mr. Bernhardt should prioritize securing a permanent director — which BLM has lacked for the duration of this administration — before the Department spends millions of taxpayer dollars playing musical chairs with employees’ lives.”

Kate P. Kelly, public lands director for the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, questioned in an email why the administration would reassign nearly all of the bureau’s D.C. staff when 95 percent of them already work out in the field.

“The true impact of this move is to make the agency and its leadership invisible in a city where — like it or not — the decisions about budgets and policies are made,” she said. “The constant shuffling, shrinking and disassembling of BLM’s workforce will have long-term implications for the health of the agency.”

The tension in the room at Tuesday’s meeting was palpable, according to the participant, as employees questioned what the move would mean for those with two-career families or other obligations that might tie them to Washington. When Hammond declared, “There is no need to panic,” several in the audience laughed.

Hammond and Joe Balash, assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management, emphasized the relocation would save the government money because the cost of living was cheaper out West and the lease on the BLM’s main building, in Southeast Washington, was set to expire. But one employee suggested in the meeting that staffers’ pay will also decline once they relocate and urged colleagues to write their member of Congress, prompting applause.

Balash also said that officials are looking to relocate staffers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey, but the department has not done as comprehensive an analysis of those moves.

Other employees embraced the reorganization, according to the meeting participant, asking how early they can leave Washington.

It is unclear what sort of congressional authorization is required to carry out the administration’s plan. When a BLM staffer raised the issue on Tuesday, Hammond replied that the department had already received the $5 million needed to carry out the initial stage of the move in May.

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