Haaland - Biden Cabinet Interior

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., speaks during the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to be Interior Secretary, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland will be in Colorado later this week, and part of that visit could include a look at the Bureau of Land Management headquarters in Grand Junction.

The BLM relocated to the city two years ago at the behest of then-Secretary David Bernhardt, as part of a move to put BLM employees closer to the public lands they manage. At the time of the move's proposal, BLM estimated 85 employees would relocate from Washington, D.C., to various BLM offices in the West, and 27 to the Grand Junction headquarters.

But according to Wyoming Public Radio, only three BLM employees actually made the move to Grand Junction.

Colorado's congressional delegation, despite the fact that the decision came out of the Trump administration, have continued to advocate for the BLM to remain in Grand Junction. Both Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper have voiced support for keeping the headquarters at its location at 760 Horizon Drive. At the time of the move, the building also houses Chevron, the West Slope branch of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Laramie Energy.*

Oil and gas companies' operations on federal lands are regulated by BLM and the Interior Department. 

Critics have alleged the move, part of a reorganization of the BLM, was improper. In December 2019, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., chair of the House's Committee on Natural Resources, asked the Governmental Accounting Office to look in to the decision-making process, whether it was properly planned and analyzed and whether it would provide the benefits claimed by the Trump administration.

At a Dec. 11, 2019, news conference announcing the GAO investigation, Grijalva was joined by Haaland, then a member of the U.S. House representing New Mexico's 1st Congressional District.

The GAO report, issued in March 2020, "assessed the bureau’s reorganization efforts against key practices for agency reforms. The bureau established goals for the reorganization, but did not establish performance measures. We also found that the bureau’s implementation plan did not include milestones, which would help ensure that the reforms are being achieved as intended and in a timely manner. We recommended that the bureau establish outcome-oriented performance measures to assess the effectiveness of the reorganization."

The report criticized BLM leadership for failing to "address key practices for involving employees and key stakeholders in developing its plan." The Interior Department did not agree or disagree with the GAO recommendations.

In February, during her Senate confirmation hearing, Haaland told Hickenlooper that she would keep an open mind on the BLM's location. 

“I’ll absolutely keep an open dialogue,” she told him. “And if you’re inviting me to Colorado I gracefully accept.”

In a statement Tuesday, Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities said “I’m glad that Secretary Haaland will get to see in person the extent of the damage that the Trump administration inflicted on the Bureau of Land Management. The agency has been without a confirmed director for more than four years, and without a functioning headquarters for two years.

“It’s laudable that Senators Hickenlooper and Bennet want to keep jobs in Colorado, but at the end of the day, the Trump ‘relocation’ of BLM headquarters was always designed to eviscerate the agency and force employees out, not create jobs. Secretary Haaland should use this visit to admit what is clear for all to see: the Bureau of Land Management needs a functioning headquarters staffed with experienced leaders, and the fastest way to do that is to rebuild the agency in Washington, D.C.”

This is Haaland's first trip to Colorado since being sworn in as Interior Secretary on March 18. She previously visited southeastern Utah but did not make a stop in Grand Junction.

Haaland will begin her visit in Denver on Thursday, to talk about drought. On Friday she will be in Grand Junction to talk about wildland fire preparedness and response. On Saturday, she will be in Ridgway to discuss the outdoor recreation economy in a community forum. 

Correction: a previous version stated that West Slope COGA was no longer in the same building as the BLM.

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