Federal GAO faults Trump plan to move BLM to Grand Junction

File – In this July 26, 2018, file photo, U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt waits to speak during the annual state of Colorado energy luncheon sponsored by the Colorado Petroleum council in Denver. The headquarters of the U.S. government’s largest land agency will move from the nation’s capital to western Colorado, a Republican senator said Monday, July 15, 2019, a high-profile component of the Trump administration’s plan to reorganize management of the nation’s natural resources. Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, D-Arizona, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, attacked the headquarters move and noted that Grand Junction is not far from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s hometown of Rifle, Colorado. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

BILLINGS, Mont.  |  A U.S. government watchdog agency said Friday that 81 Bureau of Reclamation employees have declined to relocate to Western states or left their positions as the Trump administration pursues a broad reorganization of the bureau’s headquarters staff.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report that faulted the administration for failing to follow key reform practices such as involving employees and stakeholders in its plans.

The bureau has about 10,000 employees, and most are already in field offices in the West with only about 400 in Washington, D.C. The Interior Department said last year it planned to move about 300 of them to the West.

The transfers are part of the Trump administration’s decision to create a new national headquarters in Grand Junction, Colorado. The bureau oversees nearly 388,000 square miles of public land, 99% of it in 12 Western states.

Out of 170 bureau staff who received relocation notices, 90 accepted, 81 declined or left their positions and eight fell into other categories, the GAO found.

About 130 positions already were vacant when the relocation was announced.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva said the GAO investigation showed the administration was trying to drive out staff and destroy the bureau’s ability to carry out its mission.

In response, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Megan Crandall said the relocation was “commonsense” and would better position officials to serve the public and allow multiple uses of public lands.