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BLM director details agency headquarters' return to D.C.

 Tracy Stone-Manning, President Joe Biden's pick to helm the Bureau of Land Management, during her confirmation hearing last week.
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Tracy Stone-Manning, President Joe Biden's pick to helm the Bureau of Land Management, during her confirmation hearing last week.

The Bureau of Land Management’s new director is giving employees more clarity on the agency’s organizational structure as it reestablishes its national headquarters in D.C. while retaining its presence in Colorado.

The Trump administration moved the BLM headquarters from Washington D.C. to Grand Junction, Colo., beginning in 2019. Agency leaders argued it would bring senior officials closer to the public lands they oversee, but others warned it would weaken the bureau and trigger a staff exodus.

Those fears were warranted. Nearly 300 employees either quit, transferred or retired over the move.

The headquarters is now moving back to D.C., but Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced in September that Grand Junction will become the agency's official Western headquarters.

BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning offered more details on Tuesday, writing in an email to all BLM staff that most senior officials will be based in D.C., while those who oversee national conservation lands and community partnerships will remain in Colorado.

"We anticipate posting additional positions soon to reflect that office’s leadership role in BLM’s outdoor recreation, conservation, clean energy, and scientific missions, as well as outreach and tribal consultation," she wrote.

Stone-Manning also said an employee advisory group will be created to help make future staffing decisions.

Ed Shepard thinks such a group is a good idea. He’s a retired BLM senior official and current president of the non-profit Public Lands Foundation.

"I think it recognizes the impact that this has had on the employees and trying to avoid that by a further reorganization by involving the employees," he said.

The Public Lands Foundation was a vocal opponent of the move to Colorado, and Shepard said he’s glad to see the agency bringing senior officials back to the capital.

"I think this is a great first step to getting the bureau back to where it should be – working with the other agencies back in Washington from the policy perspective while still keeping up the good work that they do back in the field," he said.

Stone-Manning’s email states that 30 vacant senior positions will also move back to D.C., and those will be posted immediately "so we can rebuild and reestablish the headquarters – and give those of you who have been pinch-hitting with extra duties or serving in acting capacities some relief."

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Nevada Public Radio, Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.