Interior Employees Impacted by Trump's Relocations Rejoice as Biden Moves Agency Headquarters Back to D.C.
"A wrong has been undone," one former employee says.
The Bureau of Land Management is once again relocating its headquarters, this time moving it back to Washington, D.C., in a reversal of a controversial decision by the Trump administration.
The Interior Department agency will maintain its office in Grand Junction, Colorado, Secretary Deb Haaland recently announced, leaving a presence in the location that the Trump administration had chosen in 2019 to house the bureau's central office. The site will now serve as BLM’s “western headquarters,” while the overall headquarters will come back to Washington.
The bureau's relocation out of Washington was controversial from the get go, with employees, lawmakers and stakeholders suggesting the Trump administration’s decision was politically motivated and designed to sideline important work. Interior officials under Trump defended the move as a significant driver of cost savings and as necessary to bring decision makers closer to the lands they manage. The department’s inspector general later found Trump officials misled Congress in justifying the relocation.
Ultimately, very few employees given relocation orders made the move, with most opting to find new jobs or retire. BLM moved 328 positions out of the nation’s capital—about 300 of which were not to Grand Junction but to other offices in western states. Just 41 employees agreed to move, and just three of those went to the newly located headquarters. This time around, Interior will not require any employees to relocate.
“The past several years have been incredibly disruptive to the organization, to our public servants, and to their families,” Haaland said. “As we move forward, my priority is to revitalize and rebuild the BLM so that it can meet the pressing challenges of our time, and to look out for our employees’ well-being.”
In a statement, Interior lamented the “significant loss of institutional memory and talent” and vowed to minimize any further disruption to employees and their families.
Employees who were affected by the 2019 move appeared ecstatic at the news. One such former worker who found a job at a new agency during the relocation said the bureau's headquarters had been “decimated,” and he hoped this would help fix it.
“A wrong has been undone,” the former BLM headquarters employee said. “The entire move to Colorado was a scam.” He said employees based in the west had to detail to D.C. to help his former office survive. “I wish the agency luck in putting the pieces back together.”
Another former employee opted to retire just as he was facing the mandate to move.
“It is great to hear the news and a good decision,” the person said.
A third former BLM employee said she was frustrated by the process, noting that she left a position she loved at the agency to take another Interior job for less money in order to stay in Washington. Ultimately, however, she was happy to see the headquarters come back to Washington.
"I applaud this effort to reinstate the agency upper echelons where they belong, co-located in D.C. with the other land management agencies," the Interior employee said. "I believe this will give greater transparency for congressional and public oversight and access, allow better collaboration among agencies and help to keep the BLM informed, non-partisan and relevant."
Haaland said there was “no doubt” BLM needed a leadership presence in Washington to ensure it could properly influence policy, budget and other decision making. She added the Grand Junction office would continue to grow. About 97% of BLM employees worked outside the Washington region prior to the headquarters relocation.
Tim Whitehouse, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said the announcement marked the end of the BLM’s “days as a political football.”
"On behalf of U.S. Bureau of Land Management employees, we are glad that the agency responsible for managing one-tenth of America’s land base will again have a seat at the table in the nation’s capital where policy decisions are made,” he said. “As the largest federal land management agency and a key player in the Biden administration’s conservation goals, it is important that BLM be directly involved in federal decision-making affecting its operations.”
Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, both Democrats representing Colorado, praised the Biden administration for keeping a western headquarters in Grand Junction. Bennet expressed disappointment, however, that the national headquarters was moving back to Washington. Several Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., who represents the district including Grand Junction, called the decision misguided and partisan. Rep. Bruce Westeman, R-Ark., the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the decision would create additional layers of bureaucracy and had “nothing to do with executing good land management.”
Bennet stressed the importance of filling vacancies throughout the bureau, including by adding staffing in Grand Junction. The former Bureau of Land Management staffer who took a job at a new agency agreed, saying the Biden administration’s move marked only the first step toward rebuilding.
“Moving the headquarters back is the right thing to do,” he said. “Now the repair has to begin and the healing process needs to follow.”