Assistant Secretary of the Interior Joe Balash has resigned, with his last day slated for Aug. 30, according to Alaska Public Media.
Balash announced his resignation just four days ago. He has not said what his future plans are, according to the news outlet.
Among his duties, Balash has responsibilities for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which announced in July it would relocate 300 employees, including upper level management, from Washington, D.C. Some could wind up in Colorado, at the Federal Center in Lakewood, and 27 could be headed to Grand Junction.
According to the Western Values Project, Balash was scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Natural Resources on Sept. 10 about the BLM move.
In a statement announcing the hearing, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona said it will "address the Trump administration’s failure to offer any meaningful justification for the move, the lack of consultation with stakeholders, and the impacts on public employees of such a hasty, poorly planned transition."
That committee includes three members of Colorado's House delegation: U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse of Lafayette, both Democrats, and Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs.
In a statement Friday, Western Values Deputy Director Jayson O'Neill said "[David] Bernhardt’s Interior still hasn’t offered a clear plan or purpose for this reckless BLM move — and now, the department’s leading voice on the relocation abruptly resigns right before a Congressional hearing. It will be up to Bernhardt and his acting BLM director, William [Perry] Pendley, to answer these critical questions that they’ve failed to address time and again.”
The move also is being questioned by Congressional budget-writers. According to The Hill, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota said last week that “Interior’s initial relocation plan was significantly lacking in the details necessary for the Committee to evaluate this proposal. That’s why Congress, in a bipartisan and bicameral manner, requested more information — to ensure the transparency and accountability of the administration’s actions."
McCollum chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees Interior's budget. BLM retirees also oppose the move, sending a letter to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska two weeks ago, requesting that her committee on energy and natural resources hold hearings on the matter.
"This plan is so radical that we question whether it was studied or analyzed by non-political budget analysts or organizations experts and whether career BLM senior management were involved or consulted," wrote Edward Shepard, president of the Public Lands Foundation, a national non-profit of BLM retirees.
"We believe this plan will result in the BLM serving only the short-term wants of locally powerful stakeholders to the detriment of all other constituents and the long-term needs of the public lands. The breakup of the Washington office structure will promote parochial, local interest, over the national interests in the management of the public lands.
The BLM is currently under Pendley, formerly of Lakewood, who led the conservative law organization Mountain States Legal Foundation for 30 years. That included suing the Department of the Interior and challenging the Endangered Species Act, although Pendley also was known for advocacy in selling off public lands, a position he has disavowed since joining the Interior department.
He has not yet been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. His appointment will expire on Sept. 30, the last day of the fiscal cycle, if he is not confirmed, although Bernhardt could extend the appointment.