President Biden’s nominee to be Interior secretary on Tuesday accepted an invitation from U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper to visit the Bureau of Land Management national headquarters in Grand Junction, saying yes before he could even get around to extending the invitation during his questioning of her at her confirmation hearing.
U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., raised the prospect of a visit when Hickenlooper, D-Colo., asked her during the hearing to “commit to keeping an open dialogue and working with us western senators” on the issue of the headquarters status.
“I’ll absolutely keep an open dialogue and if you’re inviting me to Colorado I … gracefully accept,” a smiling Haaland told Hickenlooper.
Laughing, Hickenlooper responded, “That was my next question, was we’d love to get you out to Grand Junction, and let you see the BLM land out there but also see the new headquarters and what it looks like.”
Haaland likely was anticipating the subject of a Grand Junction visit Tuesday because Hickenlooper previously had extended the invitation to visit the city during a private meeting between them.
Haaland previously has been critical of the Trump administration’s move of the BLM’s headquarters from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction, an action that also entailed moving other headquarters jobs to other sites in Colorado and other western states.
On Monday, the Biden administration’s Interior Department named Nada Culver, previously a longtime attorney for conservation groups, as the BLM’s new deputy director of policy and programs, also effectively putting her in charge of the agency for the short term because there is no BLM director. A review of comments attributed to Culver in recent media reports shows she also has been critical of the headquarters relocation, including in a Dec. 17 Politico story on Haaland’s nomination.
“The BLM headquarters move has to be addressed on day one,” Culver was quoted as saying in that story. “I think you have to have D.C. headquarters again and have to lead folks back. As a symbol of the way the agency has been dismantled, discredited, and just generally dissed, (the Colorado office) has to go.”
In a Nov. 18 story by The Hill — which speculated on possible nominees to be the BLM director, including Culver — she was quoted as saying, “I think you have to stop this Grand Junction sideshow and put the agency back so it can concentrate on actually fulfilling its mission.”
In a Feb. 8 Colorado Public Radio story Culver took a more measured approach on the subject, being quoted as saying, “Right now, (the BLM) is not able to function because there isn’t a headquarters in D.C. and there isn’t a real headquarters in Grand Junction. You know, I think everyone can agree on that,” she said. She said the Biden administration should avoid repeats of past mistakes, like “having some immediate edict that says ‘now you shall all have to move,’” even if that move is a return to Washington, CPR reported.
Culver on Monday told the Daily Sentinel she couldn’t comment on her BLM appointment, and referred questions to an Interior spokesperson. The Interior Department previously has said its new leadership “will work with BLM career staff to understand the ramifications of the headquarters move and determine if any adjustments need to be made,” and has committed to engaging with stakeholders in that review process.
The Interior Department under the Biden administration says only 41 of 328 employees affected by the relocation moved, with the rest retiring or taking other jobs.
The BLM’s move included transferring 41 largely top-level positions to Grand Junction.
Hickenlooper told Haaland Tuesday, “I think uprooting those 41 employees in Grand Junction and moving them again would be disruptive and likely result in the loss of even more BLM employees.”
“The last administration I don’t think managed the move properly. It was perceived as an attack on the BLM in trying to reduce its capabilities,” Hickenlooper told Haaland.
“… I hope there’s a path forward where we can find a solution that restores a fully functioning agency while allowing BLM staff to work close to the lands they manage.”
Haaland told Hickenlooper she looked forward to consulting with him more on the headquarters issue.
“And I understand that we absolutely need to make sure that the staff members — that we have a full team there at BLM,” she said.