A bipartisan group of senators and congressmen say the headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management should move out of Washington, D.C., and relocate in the West where the agency manages 385,000 square miles of public lands.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees the BLM, agrees. So do we.
Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner introduced a bill to move the BLM to one of a dozen states in the West — Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington or Wyoming.
“You’re dealing with an agency that basically has no business in Washington, D.C.,” Gardner told The Associated Press.
Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton introduced a similar measure in the House, and three Democrats signed up as co-sponsors: Reps. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jared Polis of Colorado and Ed Perlmutter of Colorado.
The logic of this idea isn’t hard for people in the West to understand. BLM manages huge swaths of Western states. Its decisions impact the livelihoods of people who populate rural communities but those decisions are made far from the forests, grasslands and high deserts they call home.
Not everyone is in love with the idea, particularly the special interests who court influence inside the Washington beltway.
Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s public lands program, said the Bureau of Land Management is already decentralized, and moving the headquarters would waste money.
“It’s a solution in search of a problem,” he told AP.
Critics say the BLM and other agencies need to be headquartered in the capital to be included in budget and policy discussions. But having all those discussions in Washington is part of the problem. That’s better for K Street lobbyists and the environmental special interests, but not so good for the people those policies impact.
While it’s true that less than 5 percent of the bureau’s 9,000 employees are stationed in D.C., they have more say and less access to the national treasures they administer than their colleagues in the field.
Putting BLM headquarters in Denver, Boise or Seattle wouldn’t change its statutory mission. But it would give the agency bigwigs a different perspective and a better-than-nodding acquaintance with the territory they manage and the people who live there.