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Our View: BLM headquarters

Move back to Washington will preserve agency’s prominence, influence

Relocating the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management from Washington, D.C., to Grand Junction would have been a significant economic addition to Mesa County. The education and skill levels, and salaries, of BLM staff members are substantial, and scores of other professionals, such as consultants and lobbyists, would have followed.

And with Grand Junction a little less than four hours from Durango and Cortez, in-person participation in BLM public policy hearings and access to decision makers would have been easier – and much less expensive – than travel to Washington.

The varied lands the BLM overseas are almost entirely in the West, and their uses are multiple, changing and to varying degrees contentious. Below the surfaces are often sizeable fossil-fuel mineral deposits. Proximity would have been an advantage in decision-making, while remembering that the lands belong to all Americans not just those in an adjacent county.

That relocation was a decision by President Donald J. Trump at least partly, observers would say, to reduce at least slightly the federal government’s presence in Washington.

With a new president and a new secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, that relocation decision was undone.

The relocation had struggled from the beginning, with most headquarters staff members not wanting to make the move. It is easy to imagine that they had their Washington routines, relatives and friends, familiar schools, after-work and weekend activities. Horace Greeley’s “Go West, young man”’ did not receive the same response it did about a 125 years ago.

Now, a report about the racial and ethnic diversity within the BLM, as reported in The New York Times this week, claimed diversity would have declined significantly at the headquarters level if the headquarters had moved to Grand Junction. Washington, D.C.’s population is almost half Black. Another factor to have considered.

We say, that yes, locating the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters at and near the lands it oversees would have put the organization’s top hierarchy closer to its local lands’ managers and citizens, but it would have distanced it from Congress and the political forces that determine its stature and its funding. When other government departments are a few city blocks from Congress and the White House, you do not want your agency to be 2,000 miles distant. In that competitive world, the price will be reduced awareness of good work, reduced visibility and the reduced funding that follows.

Out of sight, the Bureau of Land Management, so important to the West, would have slipped in stature and influence.

Interior has promised that the BLM will have a strong outpost in Grand Junction, one that ought to at least partially capitalize on the benefits of proximity. That will be welcome, perhaps increasing the thoroughness and timeliness of the BLM’s comment-gathering and better advocating for what Americans want in their expanse of western public lands.

We look forward to the establishment of a significant BLM office in Grand Junction, but we do not bemoan the change in decision to relocate its headquarters.