Ever since I joined the Bureau of Land Management in mid-July, things have been pretty hectic here in Washington, D.C. Around this time, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced the relocation of the BLM, leaving many Washington insiders asking, “Why?”
As Westerners, you immediately understood why: plain common sense. After all, 99.99% of the 245 million acres of federal land managed by the BLM is in the 11 western States and Alaska. While BLM’s employees work in the West, its top officials work in a high-rise office building just steps from the Washington Nationals baseball stadium. BLM Headquarters’ staff is located thousands of miles and at least two time zones away from the lands they manage; the representatives of state, local, and tribal governments with which they are required — by law — to interact with; and the people whose lives are affected mightily by their decisions.
So, with the support of the administration, Congress and local leaders, we announced a new BLM headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado, and the relocation of about 150 top posts to the West in close proximity to the work they perform: Oil and gas experts were assigned to New Mexico to assist with the Permian Basin; wild horse and burros experts were assigned to Nevada, the epicenter of that activity; renewable energy experts were assigned to California, where wind and solar power play such a big role; and so forth.
One would think the move is a no-brainer, right?
However, I keep remembering the way my former boss, President Reagan, characterized Washington D.C., as “a small plot of lands on the banks of the Potomac surrounded on all sides by reality.”
Consistent with Reagan’s warning, there has been much hyperventilating about our plans. Every day, one of the D.C. “news” outlets serving Capitol Hill and the vast federal bureaucracy is given the vapors over our efforts to move west. Even when a news story is fair and balanced, the accompanying “sky is falling” headline is meant to provoke angst and too often does.
Little surprise that recently 11 congressmen from the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Virginia, wrote a letter to the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee demanding that the BLM be denied the funds to complete its move West.
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Their letter is a curious one because only Maryland and Virginia hold any BLM land, just 2,000 acres in two special recreation areas. On the other hand, Wyoming, for example, has 18.4 million acres of BLM land. For goodness sake, some Wyoming voting precincts have more BLM land than does Maryland or Virginia.
The congressmen asserted that our plan is “designed to harm public lands and limit congressional oversight,” they demand “the roughly 300 D.C.-based staffers stay in [Washington D.C.] to continue assisting Congress in writing laws and engaging in oversight by providing unvarnished facts to lawmakers.”
To the extent that they are even interested in oversight, Congress need only ask, and we will appear. That is just what I did on Sept. 10, when I answered every question from the Committee on Natural Resources regarding our move.
The “reality” is that it goes without saying that the D.C. metro area is notorious for political nonsense, bad traffic and a very high cost of living. Conversely, our senior BLM officials stationed in the West will enjoy a lower cost of living, shorter commuting times, and closer proximity to the West’s wide-open spaces and recreational pursuits on public lands.
I understand the representatives are disappointed that the BLM is taking some high paying jobs out of the Washington, D.C. area, but there is the offsetting prospect of placing these high paying, quality jobs in western communities eager for economic development.
I want to assure you that when we complete this move in the spring, the BLM, the West and the American people all will be better for it. We look forward to saying “Howdy” to our new neighbors, not just at our new headquarters in Grand Junction or at our various offices throughout the West, but as a welcomed addition to our community.