The U.S. Department of the Interior’s (DOI) Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to move its headquarters to Grand Junction, CO, from its current base in Washington, DC, according to Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO).

“Relocating the Bureau of Land Management to the Western Slope of Colorado will bring the bureau’s decision makers closer to the people they serve and the public lands they manage,” said Gardner, who called himself the chief architect of the plan.

“The problem with Washington is too many policymakers are far removed from the people they are there to serve. Ninety-nine percent of the land the BLM manages is West of the Mississippi River, and so should be the BLM headquarters.”

DOI announced that it was considering moving BLM headquarters in April 2018, and Gardner has been calling for the move since 2016. Two years ago, Gardner introduced Senate Bill 1007, aka, the BLM Headquarters Relocation Act, which was read twice and referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, of which he is a member. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) introduced the identical House Resolution 2287.

Both bills called for the DOI secretary to develop a strategy to move BLM headquarters to a “western state,” specifically Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington or Wyoming.

In a letter to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations’ subcommittee on interior and environment, DOI assistant secretary Joseph Balash said Tuesday 220 of the current 550 BLM headquarters jobs in Washington, DC, among them BLM director, will be moved west.

“These relocations will improve the BLM’s headquarters operations on a state-by-state basis and will enhance coordination with its constituencies,” Balash said.

Initial relocation of 27 employees will come “through voluntary reassignments, providing commitments are secured by August 15, 2019,” according to the letter. Other relocations and reassignments will take place over the next 15 months, until the lease for BLM’s DC headquarters expires at the end of 2020.

Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) spokesperson Scott Prestidge said the BLM decision “is not just a win for Grand Junction but also ultimately a win for Colorado and the Rocky Mountain West. The BLM manages millions of acres of land, most of it here in the Rocky Mountains, so it only makes sense to bring more of the decision makers and employees closer to the land they manage and closer to the Westerners whose lives, and livelihoods, are impacted by their decisions.”

The West Slope COGA chapter includes Grand Junction. The chapter’s head Eric Carlson said the BLM decision was “another step forward in our long-held belief that public agencies best serve the public when employees, especially leadership, live and work in the communities they serve.”

Denver-based Western Energy Alliance (WEA) President Kathleen Sgamma noted that 98% of BLM lands are in the West. “Since the West Slope of Colorado is predominated by public lands, citizens’ lives are directly affected by the decisions BLM makes. It only makes sense that those decisions are made by westerners tied to the land, and not by a distant bureaucracy,” she said.

Asked if she thought the move would lead to more collaboration between the federal government and the energy industry, Sgamma told NGI’s Shale Daily that WEA was “used to working with BLM, so I don’t think that is the main focus of our support, although I suppose small companies that don’t work with us would develop more direct relationships.

“I think it is more important that BLM hear more from county commissioners, workers, ranchers, and other local citizens whose livelihoods are affected by BLM decisions. It’s easy to be in Washington, DC, and make decisions that curtail economic opportunity if you don’t have to stare the displaced person in the eyes.”

However, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the move was about “industry favoritism” and staff cutting, not improving public service.

“This administration has been handing over public lands to fossil fuel companies at record speed, and this move is part of that agenda,” Grijalva said. “Putting BLM headquarters down the road from Secretary Bernhardt’s hometown just makes it easier for special interests to walk in the door demanding favors without congressional oversight or accountability.

“The BLM officials based in Washington are here to work directly with Congress and their federal colleagues, and that function is going to take a permanent hit if this move goes forward. The agency will lose a lot of good people because of this move, and I suspect that’s the administration’s real goal here.”

The Sierra Club said BLM’s move was a solution in search of a problem.

“Spending millions to relocate when there are existing regional offices, billions in park maintenance backlog on the books, and costs still rolling in from Trump’s Independence Day extravagance is just foolhardy. This is theatrics, not good governance,” said Sierra Club’s Athan Manuel, director of public lands protection.

Last month, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said two of his agencies — the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture — would move from Washington, DC, to the Kansas City area. That move is estimated to affect about 550 career Agriculture Department employees.