GAO: Vacancies at BLM headquarters more than doubled due to move | Washington, DC news

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From DENNIS WEBB, Grand Junction Sentinel

GRAND JUNCTION, Colorado (AP) – The number of job vacancies at the Bureau of Land Management headquarters more than doubled when the agency moved those jobs to Grand Junction and other locations to the west before declining a little, but not to the previous level, found a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

The report cites decision-making implications due to the loss of headquarters and seasoned staff in organizational changes the agency made after 2016 and increases in the representation of some groups, reports The Grand Junction Sentinel.

Notably, the GAO report also shows that a higher percentage of headquarters staff have agreed to move west than the Home Office indicated earlier this year. That’s because when providing these earlier numbers, the Home Office did not take into account the vacancies at headquarters that existed before the move began.

In July 2019, the Trump administration announced its decision to move the agency’s headquarters from Washington, DC, to Grand Junction, in order to distribute jobs at headquarters to Grand Junction and elsewhere in the west. The government cited a desire to bring leading BLM decision-makers closer to the countries they manage and the communities affected by their decisions, but critics feared the move would weaken the agency in part as the Headquarters employees unwilling to move.

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The Trump administration decided to relocate around 40 headquarters jobs to the city and opened its headquarters on Horizon Drive in January 2020. In September, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, who as Congresswoman spoke out against moving the national headquarters westward, announced that headquarters would be moved back to Washington, although Grand Junction will serve as the western headquarters.

GAO reported that the number of open positions at headquarters increased from 121 in July 2019 to 326 in March 2020, an increase of about 169%.

“BLM has gradually cut these positions; However, the number of vacancies remained in May 2021 at 142 or about 17 percent higher than when the move was announced, ”the statement said.

The GAO reported that a total of 328 BLM headquarters positions were reassigned to western states or as state positions, and 41 people accepted reassignments. However, it was said that of the 328 newly assigned or reassigned positions 134 were already vacant before the relocation, the BLM reallocated 17 main positions already in the state BLM offices to state positions and one position was pending until May. That left 176 employees who had to move, and 23% of those – the 41 – accepted reassignments, the GAO said.

The Home Office said in January, shortly after President Biden took office, that the Trump administration moved 328 jobs from Washington and 41 people, with the remaining 287 retiring or finding new employment. Vacancies were not mentioned.

In response to a request from The Daily Sentinel about the discrepancy, a BLM spokesperson agreed with the GAO numbers, saying the reassigned positions include vacant and reassigned individuals who are already in governmental positions.

While the headquarters move contributed greatly to vacancies, GAO notes that various hiring restrictions / freezes have also played a role in both the Trump and Biden administrations.

GAO said the BLM is in a position to fill some positions created by breakups that involve people unwilling to move. However, there were 441 permanent employees at headquarters in January, up from 537 in July 2019. The total number of headquarters includes positions held by the Trump administration in Washington after the move or outside of Washington prior to the move.

GAO said that all BLM employees surveyed spoke of challenges in performing their duties due to vacancies at the headquarters after 2016.

“For example, most employees told us that vacancies in key positions at headquarters led to delays in the creation or clarification of guidelines or guidelines. One employee told us that in some cases the employee’s office has based its decisions on outdated guidelines, ”the GAO said.

From January 2016 to January 2021, the number of employees with at least 25 years of service in the office fell from 171 to 113 or almost 34% in the BLM headquarters, and the number of experienced employees in government offices fell by more than 29%.

The report found that the number of blacks on the head office’s staff fell from 116 in July 2019 to 55 by January this year, and representation in Asia also decreased. From January 2016 to January 2021, black representation in the workforce decreased by around 6% across the agency, while Latino representation increased by around 17% and Asian representation increased by around 18%.

GAO recommends that the BLM better keep track of things, including job openings in all offices, and develop a strategic workforce plan with long-term workforce strategies.

The BLM issued a statement Thursday saying that the GAO report on the previous administration’s move “confirms that the relocation has reduced diversity, created unacceptable vacancies and displaced many experienced workers from the office . The Bureau agrees with the results of the GAO report and is already working on recommendations. The BLM strives to move forward prudently and deliberately with employees, tribes, elected officials and stakeholders as we work to repair the damage. “

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