Bernhardt On BLM Move West: ‘That’s Going To Happen’
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt expressed increasing certainty that potentially multiple agencies under his administration would see significant staff, if not entire the entire headquarters, moved west, out of Washington, D.C.
Bernhardt testified Wednesday before the Democratically-controlled House Natural Resources committee.
In discussing broader questions about the ongoing plans for reorganizing the Interior Department, Bernhardt told the committee that moving at least some staff from the Bureau of Land Management and possibly the U.S. Geological Survey was “going to happen.”
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) asked Bernhardt about the ongoing discussions, first entertained by Ryan Zinke, Bernhardt’s predecessor at Interior, about possibly moving the headquarters or a substantial amount of staff of the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies to a state in the west.
“There’s been a push from some of the Colorado representatives and I think others in the west to bring some of the Washington, D.C. offices west of the Mississippi so they’re closer to where the policies are actually enacted, and it’s easier to get around and see first-hand what the policies, what effect they [have] on the land itself. So I think it makes a lot of sense to reorganize and bring some offices to the west,” Lamborn said.
Lamborn was referring to legislation first introduced by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) in 2017 to a western state: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming were listed as potential host states.
The suggestion was quickly embraced in a bipartisan manner, with Colorado’s top Democrats endorsing the move west, as Western Wire has reported.
Lamborn pointed to Grand Junction, located in his Republican colleague Rep. Scott Tipton’s district; Colorado Springs, which is located in Lamborn’s own district; or the Denver metro area, which includes portions of Rep. Diana DeGette’s and Rep. Joe Neguse’s district. DeGette and Neguse, both Democrats, also serve on the House Natural Resources committee majority.
In late 2017, Zinke had outlined that Salt Lake City, Utah and Denver were in the relocation mix, but later clarified that no decision had been made on possible sites for relocation, and that the department was still compiling “metrics on quality of life, good schools, hospitals, accommodations, those types of things, and target cities within these [regional] groups for candidates.”
Bernhardt included the relocation as part of Zinke’s legacy that he fully supported, stepping into the role after Zinke’s departure at the end of 2018.
Of Zinke’s reorganizational goals, Bernhardt said, “moving some of the headquarters west” was a top priority.
“I’m very committed to working to achieve that,” he said.
“Certainly some of the communities you mentioned are logical places,” Bernhardt told Lamborn. “Other members have slightly different views,” he added, pointing to widespread support from other members of Congress not just for the move itself but for locating the Interior staff in their own states.
“I would expect that certainly by this summer we’re sending up a reprogramming request regarding a potential move of some of the folks in the Bureau of Land Management and, potentially, the U.S. Geological Survey,” Bernhardt added.
The decision to move west would not be without precedent stretching back 8 decades, according to Bernhardt.
“I’ve seen committee transcripts back to 1936 where they were talking about the need for senior management to be further west. So that’s going to happen, I think,” he said.
Last year, Bernhardt, speaking at event on Colorado’s Western Slope, said of the move, “This is real.”
“So that’s where we are. All of those communities you mentioned are in the running,” Bernhardt concluded.
Overall reorganization of the department also included redrawing regional boundaries, and possibly creating a regional command system.
“Secretary Zinke had a very ambitious reorganization proposal that really, from my perspective, included three parts. The first part was a unified regional boundary for our bureaus, an internal management device. And we worked with Congress, and in August of last year structured the boundaries to be the same for regional boundaries for all of the bureaus, except for the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Bureau of Indian Education,” Bernhardt testified.
“Those boundaries are made and they just need to be implemented,” he said.
Bernhardt explained he was “not sold” on the third component of Zinke’s plan for a “regional commander” and additional bureaucracy.