Western Drought Haaland

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, speaks during a news conference after Haaland’s visit to talk about federal solutions to ease the effects of the drought at the offices of Denver Water Thursday, July 22, 2021, in Denver. Haaland will make stops in two cities on Colorado’s Western Slope as part of her trip to assess the effects of the drought on the Centennial State. 

The Bureau of Land Management's national headquarters are moving back to Washington, D.C., but the agency plans to expand offices in Grand Junction and make the Colorado city its official Western headquarters, Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland announced Friday.

The long-awaited announcement reverses a 2019 move by the Trump Administration that gained bipartisan support from Colorado officials to locate the agency and its top decision-makers closer to the public lands overseen by the bureau.

Haaland said the decision will restore the bureau's "leadership presence in Washington, D.C. — like all the other land management agencies," and make sure its officials are close to policy and budget decisions.

“It is imperative that the bureau have the appropriate structure and resources to serve the American public,” Haaland said.

She added: "In addition, the BLM’s robust presence in Colorado and across the West will continue to grow.”

Reaction to the announcement was swift, with state Democrats praising the decision as step toward getting the beleaguered agency back on its feet, while Republicans condemned it, describing the headquarters' return to the nation's capital as a blow to efforts to decentralize the federal government.

“A Western BLM Headquarters in Colorado will help ensure we have a fully functioning agency that understands the West," said Democratic U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper in a statement. "We’ll keep working to secure jobs in Grand Junction, including senior leadership positions. To succeed, the Western HQ must be a strong, permanent presence that engages the community and adds a Western perspective and value to the BLM’s mission."

The headquarters move was championed by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, the Republican defeated last year by Hickenlooper.

"The bottom line is that more senior BLM officials and decision-makers moving to the Grand Junction office is a good thing for Colorado and our country," said Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat who supported the headquarters relocation, in a statement. "The initial presence was far too small and now I’m finally hopeful that the office will grow."

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, said he was disappointed the national headquarters would return to Washington but called the establishment of a permanent satellite headquarters on Colorado's Western Slope "a very positive development."

“I welcome the prospect of the BLM Western headquarters exercising leadership with respect to managing our public lands, outdoor recreation, conservation, renewable energy, and engagement with stakeholders and Tribes," Bennet said in a statement.

“I’ve spoken to DOI leadership about the importance of both staffing up the office to fill current vacancies and continuing to grow the BLM’s presence in Grand Junction — in number of employees and significance," he added.

The Garfield County Republican whose district includes Grand Junction characterized Haaland's announcement as "clearly a partisan attack on rural communities" and blamed Bennet and Hickenlooper for the decision.

“From my first days in Congress, I have done everything I can to keep the Bureau headquarters in Grand Junction," said U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert said in a statement.

"While I’m disappointed with today’s decision and the details are light, this could still ultimately be a win for Grand Junction and the West as a western headquarters will remain in Grand Junction, more jobs will move to Grand Junction, and all the jobs that moved out West won’t be moved back to D.C.”

Haaland joined Polis, Hickenlooper, Bennet, Boebert and other officials in Grand Junction in July, when the Coloradans made a case to keep a headquarters out west.

Earlier this summer, Boebert and other state Republicans called on the senators to block Biden administration nominees until the administration agreed to keep the bureau's headquarters where it was, but the Democrats declined to comply with the demand.

“The fight to keep the Bureau of Land Management in Grand Junction was always bipartisan, but when it came down to the wire, Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper folded and failed to stand up for Colorado by using procedural tools to leverage the Biden regime to keep the main Bureau of Land Management headquarters, director, and senior leadership in Grand Junction," Boebert said Friday.

While leading Colorado Democrats supported the Republican-led effort to relocate the headquarters, they later criticized the Trump administration for effectively hollowing out the agency, which ultimately saw just three employees land at the Colorado office out of 328 positions moved out of Washington.

The Interior Department said the headquarters move "failed to deliver promised jobs across the West and drove hundreds of people out of the agency," leading to "a significant loss of institutional memory and talent."

Haaland said she plans to locate the bureau's director — a position that hasn't been filled by a Senate-confirmed nominee since 2016 — "and other key leadership positions in the national headquarters where they can ensure coordination with Congress, other federal agencies, and stakeholders that visit Washington, D.C."

"Additional senior personnel will operate from the Western headquarters, as part of the more than 95% of BLM employees that are already located outside of Washington, D.C.," the department said.

The bureau manages 245 million acres — roughly 10% of the country's land — and employs more than 7,000 people nationwide.

“The past several years have been incredibly disruptive to the organization, to our public servants, and to their families. As we move forward, my priority is to revitalize and rebuild the BLM so that it can meet the pressing challenges of our time, and to look out for our employees’ well-being,” Haaland said.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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