By Bob Anderson, February 2018
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke recently launched an unprecedented effort to undertake the largest reorganization in the department’s 168-year history, moving to shift tens of thousands of workers to new locations and change the way the federal government manages more than 500 million acres of land and water across the country.
The proposal would divide the United States into 13 regions and centralize authority for different parts of Interior within those boundaries. The regions would be defined by watersheds and geographic basins, rather than individual states and the current boundaries that now guide Interior’s operations. This new structure would be accompanied by a dramatic shift in location of the headquarters of major bureaus within Interior, such as the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Fish and wildlife Service.
My first experience with “reorganizations” was in the mid 1980’s wherein the BLM and the Forest Service would merge (referred to as the “BLM-FS Interchange”) to form one agency, as it was recognized that the Forest Service mandate is almost identical to the BLM’s and vice versa. This initiative actually made sense because, then and now, both agencies, with few exceptions, are required to follow the same laws created by the Congress of the United States.
That is, the BLM and the Forest Service Organizational acts are almost identical—to manage National Forests of 190 million acres and BLM administer lands of 245 million acres, under the principles of Multiple Use.
For example, the FS and the BLM must administer the 1872 Mining Law the same, but the regulations to carry out this administration are different for each agency. Grazing, Timber, Power lines, Pipelines, Wilderness, National Monuments and Energy mandates, to name a few others, are also the same for both agencies, but the regulations are slightly different to address specific agency goals. That is, the enabling laws for these resources are the same but the permitting regulations are different—leading to too much duplication, confusion and complexity to the public, many of whom depend on these laws and regulations for their lively hood.
After spending thousands of hours planning on the Interchange effort and how it would work, inviting the public sector to hundreds of meetings, and handing out plaques to those who made exemplary contributions to this effort, the merger was dropped when too many politicians got involved.
If the current administration genuinely wanted to make a difference, they would go back to this merging of the BLM and the Forest Service concept, rather than taking on a project that will cost more money, and create more public and agency confusion, and more family hardship than one can imagine. The current idea to combine these Interior agencies will be an expensive distraction for years to come, with probable negative impacts to the environment and conservation of the resources.