Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Reels Her Bureaucracy Back Into The Swamp

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland Reels Her Bureaucracy Back Into The Swamp

Former Bureau of Land Management officials from the Trump administration see the decision to split the headquarters as a vindication of their choice to move the agency.
Tristan Justice
By

DENVER, Col. — President Joe Biden’s Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced Friday the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquarters will return to Washington D.C.

The decision comes as a partial reversal of the Trump administration’s 2019 relocation of the BLM command post among the lands the agency manages. The new office space in Grand Junction, Colorado, according to Haaland’s plan, will now serve as the BLM’s western headquarters while principal positions are brought back to Washington.

“The Bureau of Land Management is critical to the nation’s efforts to address the climate crisis, expand public access to our public lands, and preserve our nation’s shared outdoor heritage. It is imperative that the bureau have the appropriate structure and resources to serve the American public,” Haaland said in a statement. “There’s no doubt that the BLM should have a leadership presence in Washington D.C. – like all the other agencies – to ensure that it has access to the policy-, budget-, and decision-making levers to best carry out its mission. In addition, the BLM’s robust presence in Colorado and across the West will continue to grow.”

Haaland’s plan to maintain a significant staff in the Colorado headquarters was seen by some former Trump officials as vindication of their move two years ago, a move that Haaland railed against as an effort to “destroy the agency” while a first-term House member on the Natural Resources Committee.

“If it remains a small ‘core’ coming back to D.C., and the Grand Junction team is expanded, this is a great victory for our effort to reposition resources, decision-making, and accountability to the field,” Casey Hammond, who announced the decision to move as acting BLM director in 2019, told The Federalist. “Our plan had a small contingency remaining in D.C., so with this decision, Secretary Haaland has cemented our establishment of the Western HQ and relocation of nearly all positions.”

William Perry Pendley, who led the BLM under President Donald Trump and oversaw the agency’s cross-country transition, said Haaland’s plan is the secretary “trying to find a way to save face.”

“She says she’s going to increase people in Grand Junction so it seems to be it’s a vindication of our move,” Pendley told The Federalist. “You can’t really run the bureau from Washington… When I was in Washington we’d make every decision everyday with a piece of paper, a photograph and a map.” Whereas out west, “it makes a big difference when you’re smelling smoke every morning.”

[READ: California Wildfire Devastation Was Entirely Preventable Through Proper Land Management]

As for positions moved back to D.C., Pendley said the secretary may be putting too much faith in beltway bureaucrats overseeing 245 million acres of federally controlled land across the country. Of that, 99 percent is located in 11 western states and Alaska.

“We put the people running the show out where the show’s taking place,” Pendley told The Federalist.

The push to keep BLM’s headquarters in Grand Junction enjoyed bipartisan support from both of Colorado’s Democrat senators, its Democrat governor, and the congressional district’s Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert.

While former Trump officials who orchestrated the move to Colorado see Haaland’s Friday decision as a form of victorious vindication, especially from a secretary who was critical of the move two years ago, Boebert labeled the re-launch of a D.C. headquarters as “a partisan attack on rural communities.” Boebert went on to place blame on the state’s senators for refusing to use their decisive votes on BLM director nominee Tracy Stone-Manning as leverage to jeep the agency headquarters in the western slope.

“The fight to keep the Bureau of Land Management in Grand Junction was always bipartisan,” Boebert said in a statement, “but when it came down to the wire, Senators Bennet and Hickenlooper folded and failed to stand up for Colorado by using procedural tools to leverage the Biden regime to keep the main Bureau of Land Management headquarters, Director, and senior leadership in Grand Junction.”

Other Republicans on Capitol Hill lodged similar attacks on Haaland’s plan.

“A two-quarterback BLM system with one headquarters in D.C. and another headquarters in Colorado will layer bureaucracies, further confusing and complicating an already confused and complicated agency,” said House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Bruce Westerman of Arkansas.

“This ridiculous notion of having dual headquarters is a display of the worst kind of D.C. theatrics that will only lend to further uncertainty about BLM’s land management decisions,” said Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Dan Newhouse.

Democrat Gov. Jared Polis, on the other hand, praised Haaland’s decision after she pledged the BLM’s presence in Grand Junction would continue to develop.

“The bottom line is that more senior BLM officials and decision-makers moving to the Grand Junction office is a good thing for Colorado and our country,” Polis said. “The initial presence was far too small and now I’m finally hopeful that the office will grow.”

Tristan Justice is the western correspondent for The Federalist. Follow him on Twitter at @JusticeTristan or contact him at [email protected]

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