BLM hunting for space for local headquarters

BML managed Bangs Canyon.

A Montana group filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to force the Department of the Interior to release public documents related to its decision to relocate the Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction and several other western states.

The Whitefish, Montana-based Western Values Project filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to release information under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act for details about the department's plan to relocate the BLM out of Washington, D.C.

While the top 27 administrative jobs in the BLM are to move to Grand Junction, nearly 300 other BLM positions are to be relocated in Lakewood and elsewhere in the West, such as Utah, New Mexico and Oregon. Some BLM jobs, primarily those that deal with Congress, are to remain in D.C.

The group, one of many questioning the relocation, said new documents show that some of those legislative liaison positions also are leaving the D.C. area.

Jayson O'Neill, deputy director of the project, said his group has filed FOIA requests for more documents, but are being "stonewalled" in receiving them.

"There are more questions than answers regarding the intent and purpose of the Trump administration's controversial proposal to relocate the Bureau of Land Management, and now Interior is illegally stonewalling the release of public documents," O'Neill said. "Interior Secretary (David) Bernhardt has left just about everyone in the dark when it comes to this harebrained, costly power grab concocted behind closed doors for special interests."

Like the project, some groups — including dozens of retired BLM workers — have said they believe the BLM is being systemically dismantled to open the door for private interests to take over public lands.

"Although many agency officials have stated that the move was designed to bring BLM employees closer to the public, some have questioned that rationale because over 90% of BLM employees work outside of Washington, D.C.," the lawsuit says. "Moreover, at least one high-ranking government official has suggested that relocating employees is a way to induce employees to quit, remarking that it is a 'wonderful way to sort of streamline government.'"

Like its FOIA request, the lawsuit seeks all correspondences between dozens of Interior and BLM officials related to its relocation plans.

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