VAIL • U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Monday that his department is determining if each job in the Bureau of Land Management is necessary and if it belongs in Washington, D.C., before recommending whether to move the agency's headquarters to a Western state.
Speaking at the annual meeting of the Western Governors Association in Vail, the Rifle native, who was confirmed to the post in April, said he expects to propose the move but didn't say when the process could be complete or if the department has narrowed the list of possible sites for BLM headquarters.
"At the end of that analysis, my expectation would be that I can tell Congress very clearly, 'Here's where I think these roles will be optimized and put to their greatest use,' and we'll see if Congress will agree with me or not," Bernhardt told the 11 western governors gathered at a Vail hotel for the conference.
His recommendation will likely "involve a substantial element of BLM folks from D.C. being repositioned," Bernhardt added.
Bernhardt said he's carrying on a department-wide reorganization initiated by his predecessor, former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who began consideration of moving BLM's top management closer to the 245 million acres it administers, including 8.3 million acres in Colorado.
"We need to somehow find a way to put more resources on those front lines, and then organize it in a way that will best serve the American people," Bernhardt said.
Colorado officials have been lobbying to land the new BLM headquarters, possibly in Grand Junction, Pueblo or the Denver area. Other potential sites include cities in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah.
An Interior official recently told Congress that the department hopes to decide where to locate the bureau's headquarters by the end of September.
The headquarters of the U.S. Geological Survey could also move from Washington, D.C., to the Denver area, where the agency known for tracking earthquakes and publishing topographical maps already has a large presence, Interior officials recently told a congressional committee.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert — the nation's longest-serving governor — asked Bernhardt about his plans to move the headquarters of various Interior agencies west during a half-hour session that featured questions to the secretary from each of the western governors in attendance.
Kicking off the discussion, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis first praised Bernhardt for his department's Bureau of Reclamation successfully guiding the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans through Congress — no small feat, the former five-term congressman said.
Polis asked how the states could help Interior catch up on an estimated $12 billion in deferred maintenance on national parks.
"We have proposed using revenue from activities [on public lands] to fund a funding source that would allow us to enhance that infrastructure," Bernhardt said.
Calling the backlog "unsustainable," Bernhardt said: "And there are ways to fund it, and we need to have the support of the American people to move forward, because the infrastructure is crumbling, our roads are crumbling, and it is time to address that problem."
About an hour before Bernhard's Q&A session with the western governors, a few dozen protesters — some wearing "swamp creature" masks — rallied on the raging Gore River alongside the conference hotel to protest the former oil and gas lobbyist's policy proposals.
The protesters, organized by the Sierra Club, said they want Bernhardt to "prioritize conservation over extraction on public lands" and called on the Trump administration to reverse a plan to impose dramatic cuts on the Land and Water Conservation Fund budget.
The WGA conference continues through Wednesday. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta is scheduled to participate in a roundtable with the governors Tuesday, and Housing Secretary Ben Carson is scheduled to take part in a discussion Wednesday.