Photo: Joe Balash, left, Sen. Tom Udall
A U.S. senator from the impoverished state of New Mexico (second poorest in the nation) strenuously objects to having the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management move to the West from the nation’s capital. Those 32 federal jobs his state would get? Not important.
But his objections came too late, and now he’s unhappy.
In a letter to outgoing Assistant Secretary of the Interior Joe Balash on Aug. 22, Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Congresswoman Betty McCollum of Minnesota lobbed criticism at the plans to bring BLM management West, a move announced in July by Balash.
“Based on the incomplete and superﬁcial information that you provided, it appears that the proposal to relocate Bureau headquarters is not based on rigorous financial and organizational analysis, nor is it intended to increase the Bureau’s accountability and improve the management of our nation’s public lands. Instead, we are concerned that the proposal is designed to reduce the Bureau’s effectiveness and relevance. As a result, we object to the Department moving forward with the reorganization of the Bureau and the relocation of its staff,” the lawmakers wrote.
The two are unhappy to see the Bureau of Land Management is decentralizing much of its decision making staff to the Western states, where federal workers in charge will be closer to the land they manage. They prefer those decisions be made in Washington, D.C. They say the effort is meant to dismantle the BLM.
Balash, who is with the agency through the end of the month, tapped back a polite letter stating that if Udall and McCollum didn’t want jobs in their states, the agency would happily reconsider whether to put those jobs there.
That infuriated Udall, who took the exchange to the media, leaking the letters a reporter and hit the news at The Hill newspaper, which then published a blustery headline, “Interior official threatens to withhold jobs in lawmakers’ districts after opposition to BLM move.”
‘Threatens’ being the key word.
It was all a bit of August theater, since Udall and McCollum had missed the 30-day window to object to the move. Udall is a Democrat, and McCollum is a member of the Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, which is unique to Minnesota. They are both members of their respective Appropriation Subcommittees on lnterior, Environment, and Related Agencies, and they were well aware of the comment window, or should have been.
What Balash’s letter actually said was, in an agreeable tone, “Given your apparent strong feelings about the Department’s actions and intentions, we pledge to review and reconsider the relocation of additional departmental resources to your state. We are also open to working with other delegations that object to additional departmental resources being allocated to their states.”
Udall’s home state of New Mexico was set to receive 32 federal workers, while Minnesota is not included in the plan that would leave 60 employees in Washington, D.C. and move about 300 to western states, with a western headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., where 27 top BLM managers would be located.
Udall and McCollum appear to be upset that they missed the window to make their objections, and are further upset that Balash called their bluff. It was a slow news day in August in the nation’s capital, particularly since Udall announced in March he will not seek reelection in 2020. As for Balash, he’s only at Interior through the end of the month. Then he’s going fishing.