The Trump administration said Tuesday that it can save taxpayers millions of dollars, make better decisions and trim a “top heavy” office in Washington by moving the headquarters of the nation’s biggest land agency to Colorado and dispersing scores of jobs across 11 states in the U.S. West.
Interior Department officials said they hope to open the new Bureau of Land Management headquarters in the western Colorado town of Grand Junction and complete most of the job shifts by September 2020.
Moving the bureau, which is part of the Interior Department, out of Washington is a long-cherished goal of Western state politicians who cite the preponderance of public lands in their part of the country.
The bureau oversees nearly 388,000 square miles of public land — 99% of it in 12 Western states — and balances competing demands from oil and gas drilling, mining, ranching, outdoor recreation and environmental protection.
Energy and ranching interests praised the move as an overdue step to give them better access to officials who have considerable power over their businesses. But, environmental groups say it will make the bureau a less important part of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Joseph Balash, an assistant secretary of the Interior, said in a conference call with reporters that the moves could save at least $50 million and up to $100 million over 20 years because office space is usually cheaper in the West than in Washington, and cost-of-living differentials for federal employees are lower. Congress allocated $5.6 million for the move this year, but future cost projections weren’t available.
Balash said nearly half the Bureau of Land Management’s senior executives are in Washington, even though the vast majority of its approximately 10,000 employees are in the West.
Nevada was in line for nearly 50 jobs, Utah about 45, and Arizona and New Mexico about 40 each, the department said. About 60 positions would stay in Washington to handle budget and policy questions and work with Congress.