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Former Interior Secretary criticizes Biden plan to move federal land agency back to D.C.

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 11:18 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Grand Junction, Colorado is home to the Bureau of Land Management, but soon, key bureau leaders will head back to the nation’s capital.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced in August that the main bureau headquarters will shift back to D.C., but said the Grand Junction office will still be a key part in the bureau’s mission of overseeing federal lands.

With the backing of Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) and former Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO), in 2019 the Trump administration moved the Bureau of Land Management out west — a controversial decision at the time which some criticized as an attempt to force experienced career officials out of the agency.

During the 2018 site-selection process, Bennet and Gardner encouraged then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to consider moving the Bureau to Grand Junction.

Zinke recently spoke with the Gray Washington News Bureau about the Biden Administration’s plan to move the BLM headquarters back to Washington, D.C.

Zinke said, “[The] current administration is just wildly reversing whatever the Trump Administration did. Whether it’s the right thing or not, they just want to go in reverse.”

Zinke said the Trump Administration made the right decision by moving the Bureau of Land Management to Colorado.

The Biden Administration says it wants bureau leaders, including the director position, back in D.C. to ensure coordination with Congress. Zinke says it’s more important to have leadership closer to the land they are managing — and most of it is out West.

Zinke said, “It’s always better if the commander is forward so he too sees and understands and visits the governors. And since you’re forward, you’re more likely to be in tune with the management problems we have. Especially fires. You know, these fires have been devastating.”

While the Biden Administration’s Department of Interior declined our request for an interview, the Department laid out part of the plan for the Bureau’s move in a press release. The administration says 95% of the Bureau’s employees currently work outside of D.C. The press release also states the Grand Junction office will grow and expand and serve as the Bureau of Land Management’s Western headquarters.

The release criticizes the decision Zinke advocated for, and said it failed to bring the promised jobs to Colorado, while driving hundreds of employees out of the agency.

Zinke said he disagrees.

“What it did was it cleaned up bureaucracy that was DC-centric that simply did not care where the decision was made as long as it was made in DC,” Zinke said.

The Biden Administration said only employees in certain leadership positions will be required to relocate from Colorado to D.C.

Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) said that while he’s disappointed the national headquarters is moving out of Grand Junction, he believes the Biden Administration’s commitment to growing the Western headquarters is positive. He also said he has spoken with the Administration and will hold them accountable to fully staff the Colorado headquarters.

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