The federal Bureau of Land Management is charged with managing about 248.3 million acres of land in the United States. Most of that — 99.4 percent, according to the Congressional Research Service — is in the West and Alaska, including roughly half of federal lands in Oregon. That’s led Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and some in Congress to push to move the agency’s headquarters out of Washington, D.C.
Zinke wants to reorganize the agency into 13 regions based on geographic similarities rather than state boundaries. That might make sense. But while the idea of moving BLM headquarters has an appealing ring to it, closer inspection makes clear such a move is unlikely to improve management of BLM land.
One common complaint heard about federal land ownership is that those who have the final say in land management live far from the open spaces of places such as Oregon, Idaho and Nevada and have little understanding of life for those who live near the land they manage.
Moving the agency’s headquarters to Colorado, Utah or even Oregon might change that, although there’s no guarantee it would make any substantive difference in how the BLM approaches its management duties.
Worse, like it or not, no matter where the agency is headquartered, decision-making for it would remain in Washington, D.C.
As part of the Department of the Interior, the BLM’s annual budget would be set, not in a home-state west of the Rockies, but in a district west of Chesapeake Bay. That budget would be approved, as it is now, by members of the two houses of the U.S. Congress, most of whom don’t come from the sparsely populated West, but from east of the Mississippi River.
Having its headquarters in Washington, D.C., benefits the BLM and the lands it cares for in another way, as well. Members of Congress from Western states have the same access to BLM officials about things other than money, and those officials can answer quickly when questions about the agency and how it runs are raised. BLM has problems and moving its headquarter seems unlikely to improve them.