by Ed Shepard
Where did the summer go? I can’t believe that we’re already having cool weather and snow is in the air in the high country. I really don’t mind this time of year; kinda like it. I’m just not sure I am ready for it. The PLF has been very busy the past few months working on getting ready for a successful Annual Meeting; while also at the same time responding to the proposed BLM reorganization, the relocation of the WO Headquarters to Grand Junction, and the scattering of other WO staff all over the West.
The PLF Annual Meeting was held on September 10-13 in Reno, Nevada. This year’s program centered on one of the important multiple-use programs in the BLM portfolio, Sustainable Energy and Minerals Management. A field trip to the Coeur Rochester gold and silver mine was held on Wednesday. I was unable to attend but reports are that the field trip was a “blast,” figuratively and literally, as the mine detonated a shot as part of their operations while the group was there (see the video on www.publicland.org). Wednesday evening, we had a picnic at a local park and the opportunity to eat some good food and to socialize with old friends.
The general member’s session was held on Thursday with several speakers from local, state, and Federal government, conservation groups, and the University of Nevada-Reno making presentations on the role of energy and minerals in Nevada. The BLM Nevada State Director Jon Raby welcomed us and provided an update on BLM Nevada programs. Presentations included discussions on locatable minerals as well as traditional and renewal energy. Nevada has always had a lot going on in mining and this continues, along with expanding renewable energy production. We also heard from Senator Jackie Rosen via video and from Kurt Englehart representing Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto. Congressman Mark Amodei joined us in person and gave a talk on Nevada and the public lands. His remarks were humorous and enjoyed by the attendees. Of course, he was asked about his views on the BLM reorganization and relocation. He responded that “when someone dares to tell me what it is, I’ll be happy to share my thoughts” (which prompted a lot of laughs). Dwight Fielder of the National Older Workers Career Center made a presentation on the Experienced Services Program. This is a program where retirees, 55 and older, provide services back to BLM or other agencies and receive pay based on the work and experience. Further information on this program is included in the summary of the Annual Meeting in this edition of the Monitor, which I encourage you to read and consider. Mike Ferguson and AnnaFaith Jorgensen gave a short presentation and video highlighting the Fourth Student Congress held in August 2018 in Baker City, Oregon. AnnaFaith is the student representative on the PLF Board and her presence at the meeting gave us a fresh perspective on natural resource management.
At the Thursday evening banquet, we heard from Jim Currivan on his many years of experience with BLM. We also presented Volunteer of the Year awards to Ray Brady and George Stone, and Lifetime Service Awards to Mike Ferguson and Wayne Elmore. Wayne was unable to attend and will be presented his award in October. Pat Harvey was recognized by the Board for her many years of service to the PLF as co-editor of the Monitor.
These meetings do not happen without the work of a lot of people. I don’t like to list people because I inevitably leave people out that should be recognized. I would, however, like to thank Butch Hayes and Jim Currivan for their leadership in putting this excellent meeting together, and to Beau for making sure everything came together as it should. Also, a big “thank you” to Nevada BLM for their help and support. And, to all of you that attended. I encourage those of you that have not attended our meetings to consider doing so in the future. It is a good way to keep up on the management of BLM’s public lands and with other retirees. Next year’s meeting will be in Wyoming and plans are beginning for that meeting.
For the past couple of years we have been hearing about the Department’s efforts to reorganize BLM and move the WO Headquarters to the West. The PLF has been very open with the BLM leadership and the Department that, as retirees with cumulatively thousands of years of experience in public land management, we oppose moving the Headquarters office away from Washington, D.C. where all other Federal land management agencies are located. Since 2017, the PLF has been on record through letters to BLM, the Secretary, and to Congress of our opposition and the reasons we feel this reorganization is detrimental to the agency and the Nation’s public lands.
At that time, we thought the plan was to move the Headquarters, as a whole, to a western location. We thought that plan was ill-conceived and wrong. We were shocked when we, and the BLM employees, found out via a July 16, 2019 letter to Congress from former Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management, Joe Balash that the intent was to move the Director, Deputy Director for Operations, Assistant Directors, and a small support staff to Grand Junction, Colorado (a total of 27 employees). Most of the other Washington Office program offices and employees would be split up in offices around the West and attempt to continue to perform WO work from afar. Approximately 60 positions covering legislative affairs, budget, FOIA, etc. would be left in Washington, D.C. along with the politically appointed Deputy Director for Policy and Programs. Another 74 positions, mostly vacant and unfunded positions, would be separated from the WO and allocated to states under the respective State Director. This is a plan that will dismantle BLM and cripple its ability to effectively carry out its multiple-use mission.
The Department cites the need to get employees closer to the ground they manage, to provide better customer service, place decision making closer to the land, and to save money. These are all worthy objectives. However, this reorganization plan is not needed to achieve these objectives and the consequences of its implementation will not meet the objectives. The plan fails to recognize that 97 percent of the BLM employees are already located near the land they manage in Field, District, and State Offices. These are the employees that are in the local communities interacting on a daily basis with the public, tribes, state and local governments, and other land management agencies. These are the employees that are providing the expert advice and input for decisions that are appropriately made at the Field or District Manager level or elevated to the State Director for decision. Those employees located in the WO are there to provide expert advice on decisions and policy that is appropriately made on a national level. The delegation of authority already exists to make decisions in the field, but over the past several years the Department has pulled back some of that delegated authority for review in Washington. This issue can easily be fixed by sending the appropriate authority and accountability back to the field.
As far as saving money, there is no argument that leasing office space is cheaper in Grand Junction than in Washington, D.C. It is also true that BLM would pay the employees less in many western locations. However, it is arguable that the cost savings would be offset by the loss in effective and efficient management of the organization and the public lands. We have not seen where any analysis of this ever-fluctuating plan has been done or what the business reasons are for moving positions to specified locations. The PLF has asked Congress to stop or delay this reorganization until an independent analysis by a third party, such as the Congressional Budget Office or Government Accountability Office, can take a close look at it and weigh the benefits against the costs.
The PLF has taken several steps to raise our concerns including meeting with BLM, the Department, as well as Congressional members and staffs; writing letters to appropriate Congressional Committees; collaborating with other groups with similar concerns, such as the National Association of Forest Service Retirees and the Conservation Lands Foundation; testifying before Congress; and getting the story out via social media and the press.
As of the time I am writing this, the reorganization is moving forward and building space has been leased in Grand Junction. Employees have been notified as to the location they will be moving to and vacant positions are being advertised in western locations. The Department has made it clear through press releases that they intend to move forward with the reorganization at a fast pace, notwithstanding the reluctance of Congress to appropriate further funds to carry out the reorganization.
If you have not been tracking this issue, I encourage you to read the materials that PLF has prepared on our website and weigh in with your Congressional delegation. If you have already written your delegation, write or call them again. If they have questions, provide them with your own response or material from the website. If they agree this reorganization may not be in the best interest of public lands, thank them. If they do think that this plan will be good for the Nation’s public lands, respectfully disagree and provide your response of why this is not a good plan.
The PLF will continue to oppose this plan and will keep you informed. In the end if this plan, a modified plan, or no plan is implemented, the PLF will continue to advocate for retaining the public lands in public hands, and for the professional management of these lands and resources by dedicated BLM employees.