Christmas is fast approaching, and I am eager to return to Colorado to celebrate with my family. In November, I was in Grand Junction for meetings with Bureau of Land Management state directors who are stationed throughout the West and Alaska, and I will be back in Colorado on Jan. 2 to help set up BLM’s new headquarters in Grand Junction with a small staff.
Other BLM employees will be making the move shortly thereafter. I thought I could wait for the New Year to write about this and our progress to set up the new office, but the BLM just took a another shot across the bow that must be responded to given it involves all Coloradoans as well as other westerners.
Chairman Raul M. Grijalva of the Committee on Natural Resources of the U.S. House of Representatives disagrees with our decision to relocate BLM’s HQ to Grand Junction — which, importantly, has already been congressionally-approved. We fundamentally believe that by delegating more responsibility to the field and putting more of our most valuable and experienced staff closer to the resources they manage, we will better serve the American people. We have been transparent with the committee in fulfilling their requests for document productions, totaling thousands of pages, and Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and I have both separately participated in committee hearings speaking to the specifics of the relocation. We also have the support of a bipartisan coalition of federal, state and local officials for the move, including Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and Colorado Democrats on the committee. However, Chairman Grijalva remains unmoved and would rather engage in unfounded partisan attacks.
As a result, since July 16 when we formally notified Congress of the move, Chairman Grijalva has inundated us with requests, demands, and threats. And, for the record, he has every right to disagree and request information, but his most recent accusations go too far.
At first, he appeared to be uninformed when he asserted that our decision to relocate more than 150 positions to Grand Junction and elsewhere throughout the West, in cities like Billings, Boise, and Reno, may result in a disparate impact on certain employees within the BLM, and that the BLM will face lawsuits that might total in the tens of millions of dollars. But then he added an inflammatory spin when he implied that the BLM might have engaged in discrimination or will do so in the process of moving West. In fact, he wrote that the BLM’s “statistics” were “most alarming.” The chairman’s fears are misplaced.
Federal law prohibits discrimination against anyone because of their protected status. I assure you that all affected BLM employees are being treated equally and not based on any protected status. The decisions to move were made after careful consideration of the BLM’s mission and needs. The personnel actions that are being implemented to carry out the move are likewise based on each employee’s knowledge, skills, abilities and experience of those who apply, whether in Washington, D.C. or out West.
Chairman Grijalva insulted Westerners by asserting that they will be inhospitable to the BLM’s reassigned employees based on their protected status. Shame on him for his implication that the American West is unwelcoming to people based on anything but the content of their character. While I am focused on advancing the BLM’s mission, my roots as a Westerner make the chairman’s notion difficult to comprehend. I grew up in Cheyenne, Wyoming, home of F.E. Warren Air Force Base, formerly Fort D.A. Russell, which has a history of inclusion and was home to the famous Buffalo Soldiers. These African American men served with distinction in the Civil War, the settlement in the West and the protection of the national parks.
Today, my home is in a similarly inclusive Colorado district represented by Congressman Joseph D. Neguse, the first Eritrean-American elected to Congress whose parents came to Colorado from Africa by way of California. Moreover, I have observed the remarkable diversity of BLM employees throughout the West as a result of my visits to offices in California, Colorado, North Dakota, Utah and elsewhere.
Perhaps the letter was just politics, but I took it personally. Perhaps you heard about it by now, but please fear not. Our move enjoys remarkable bipartisan support, especially from governors, elected officials, stakeholders and BLM’s neighbors in the West.
Let me just ask that when we all get out there next spring, you give my BLM colleagues a hearty, friendly western welcome.
In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
William Perry Pendley is the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management.