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Our View: Would BLM move west make interests easier to ignore?

May 9, 2019 GMT

The federal Bureau of Land Management, the landlord of some 388,000 square miles of America, insists it is moving west to be closer to 99 percent of its holdings.

Last week, it set a September target for naming a new headquarters location. Arizona is one of four states in the running.

The plan is receiving expected pushback from Congressional Democrats, but the opposition is for the wrong reasons. Some assert the Interior Department wants to shed jobs and save money by making the move. They want to see the cost/benefit analysis from the move.

The moving plan was hatched by then-Sec. Ryan Zinke, pushed as a means of assuring the federal land bureaucracy is closer to the land it manages and therefore better able to understand local concerns on land issues. BLM received some moving money in this year’s budget but another $25 million or so is awaiting Congressional approval.

It’s a plan that makes sense and certainly Arizona would be delighted should BLM choose it for the headquarters location. (Given the lobbying from other parts of the West, particularly Colorado, Arizona seems to have a lesser chance of being named.)

There is a flaw in the plan, namely that it seeks to address a problem that isn’t fully defined. Instinctively, proximity to the managed land seems a good call. The real issue for many Westerners, though, is making sure all the decision makers in the Interior Department and Congress understand the real topics and problems of BLM lands.

An unintended consequence of moving BLM headquarters away from D.C. is that BLM’s leaders are as remote as their lands from the decisions and politics of Washington.

That won’t stand, of course, so the next solution will be adding back managers and high functions to the Interior Department in Washington.

It looks more like an inevitable expansion, rather than shrinking, of government. A closer, more engaged BLM seems a healthy move. No one should kid themselves into thinking it would lead to better policy making back in Washington.

BLM needs to move more of its operational decisions to the West but that’s about all. Jumping ship on D.C. will simply make the BLM and the interests of Westerners easier to ignore.

— Today’s News-Herald