The Bureau of Land Management is now definitively saying it plans to locate about 40 jobs at its new national headquarters in Grand Junction next year, up from the 27 initially announced.
The agency’s acting director, William Perry Pendley, had suggested the higher number in an interview in Grand Junction with the Daily Sentinel in early November. He said then that he thought as many as 40 positions might be located at the new headquarters, although 27 remained “the most solid number.”
A subsequent BLM news release updating the status of the relocation of agency headquarters jobs to Grand Junction and other western locations said that Pendley had confirmed that 40 BLM jobs are going to Grand Junction. Responding by email to an inquiry from the Daily Sentinel last week, the BLM’s Washington office said that “approximately 40” positions will be based in the city.
Altogether, the agency is moving some 300 jobs from its Washington, D.C., headquarters to Western states, with top-level positions including the BLM director, deputy director for operations and all assistant directors being based in Grand Junction at its new national headquarters. The agency plans to keep 61 jobs in Washington.
The BLM plans to begin working out of its new headquarters office on Horizon Drive at the start of the year.
“There will be people working in the Grand Junction headquarters on Jan. 2, but that is not the official grand opening,” the BLM said in its email to the Sentinel.
Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership, said that based on communications with the Department of Interior, she believes about 10 of the employees are expected to begin working in the new office on Jan. 2, with the number continuing to grow through June.
She said her understanding is that the number increased from 27 after federal officials visited Grand Junction and realized the lower cost of office space and doing business in Grand Junction versus some other places it also is relocating staff. It decided to shift some positions slated to go elsewhere to Grand Junction instead, Brown said.
“I am hopeful that we’ll see those numbers just continue to climb. The more people they put here and the more successful the office is, I think we’re just seeing that grow,” she said.
Few of the 40 or so people who will be working in Grand Junction apparently will be current Washington office employees. Brown said officials have indicated to her that only about six to eight people there will be moving to Grand Junction. Her organization has sent them relocation information to help with things such as schools, real estate options, and help for spouses/partners looking for jobs.
Brown said a lot of people took advantage of a lucrative early retirement package, and a lot of positions to be based in Grand Junction currently are vacant. While in Grand Junction, Pendley mentioned the challenges of filling positions in Washington because of the high cost of living there. The agency is hiring a number of headquarters employees who will begin their new jobs in Grand Junction.
The agency is moving most of its headquarters jobs out West based on what BLM and Interior officials describe as an effort to locate more top-level employees closer to the lands and communities their decisions affect. The move has encountered backlash from critics who think it is designed to hollow out the agency’s national-level staff and result in more decisions being made by political appointees. Last week, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the Government Accountability Office would be investigating the move.
Brown is frustrated by what she sees as another example of something initially having bipartisan support — in this case, including from U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo. — and then becoming the subject of a partisan fight in Washington.
Critics say it appears few BLM Washington employees will agree to move to any Western locations, instead choosing options such as retirement or taking other federal government jobs in Washington. Brown said high turnover because of reluctance of people to move is only to be expected in headquarters relocations, whether in the public or private sector.
“For anyone to act surprised by that (in the case of the BLM), it seems disingenuous,” she said.