Wyoming Delegation Favors Moving BLM Out West

Aug 9, 2019

Credit U.S. Bureau of Land Management

The Trump administration is trying to relocate the bulk of the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management from Washington to Colorado, which is getting cheers from Wyoming lawmakers. But Democrats view the move as problematic and a way to gut the agency.

For years Wyoming lawmakers have complained that government employees in their pressed shirts and suits are making decisions that impact the lives of their constituents. So they're welcoming the Trump administrations plan to only leave about 60 Bureau of Land Management - or BLM - employees in D.C., out of the 550 currently located there.

"I think it's just a good idea to get people out of Washington and closer to home, where I think the decisions are made on a much more reasonable basis. You don't want unelected, unaccountable heavy-handed bureaucrats making decisions that impact our lives. And often when they don't know anything about us. So I think it's important to get these decisions being made out West," Wyoming Senator John Barrasso says.

But currently only about six percent of BLM employees are located in Washington, which is why the Trump administration's effort is viewed skeptically by many Democrats.

"[It's] just an effort to undermine the way that BLM functions," New Mexico Democratic Senator Tom Udall says.

Udall says the BLM staff currently in Washington play a vital role in assisting federal law and rulemaking.

"Frequently we have a lot of questions as to - from members of Congress - what BLM is doing and where they're headed, and if you don't have the top people in Washington you can't answer the questions. We've seen that in the past," Udall says.

Udall says with about 95 percent of the BLM's workforce currently in the field, the move is unnecessary. But Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney says Udall and other western Democrats who are voicing these complaints have spent too much time in Washington themselves.

"I think that that's probably a fear that you hear from eastern Democrats who you know don't understand how the real America lives," Cheney says.

New Mexico Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich is open to moving BLM out west. Still, Heinrich says the announcement comes at an odd time - right before an election year where Republican Colorado Senator Cory Gardner is up for reelection in one of the hottest races this cycle - so he fears it's "…an effort to either help an individual senator in their reelect, or more importantly to push career professionals, who really know how to do their job, out, then that would be deeply troubling," Heinrich says.

But Cheney counters that government employees who work on western issues should be longing to move out west.

"Frankly I think once they've had the chance to be out and visit Wyoming and Colorado and see what life is really like out there we call it God's country. We anticipate that we'll have a lot of folks who are clamoring to get out there," Cheney says.

For Wyoming's senior Senator, Mike Enzi, supports the move for a typical reason…it could actually save the government money. Enzi chairs the Budget Committee and notes that the administration estimates the relocation will save more than $50 million.

"There's something to be said for having the workers where the work is, instead of paying for all the travel back and forth. I suspect they're also looking at it as a way to clean out some of the dead wood. You know if the President moved somebody that had an appointment office down below that at will position, you can't ever get rid of them," Enzi says.

Enzi also thinks the move could help cut the duplicative federal programs that now have over-lapping jurisdiction on western issues.

"Well, my problem in the federal government is: we don't even know what programs we're paying for. Let alone how much they are, let alone if they're authorized, let alone how much duplications there are. That's what I'm trying to get at by budget reforms. Forcing us to take a look at what we're doing and seeing if the money is actually making it to the program, not just paying for a bunch of bureaucrats to run a program," Enzi says.

The Trump administration is hoping to complete the move by the end of 20-20, but Democrats are promising to try to stop the move when lawmakers have to come together and fund the agency this fall.