WASHINGTON — A decision by the Trump administration to move the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management to Grand Junction, Colo., from Washington left the agency with high vacancy rates as veteran employees — especially African Americans — quit rather than relocate, a government watchdog said in a report issued this week.
Trump’s Interior Department officials had claimed that Trump needed to make sure that top employees were closer in proximity to the federal land that they manage, which is mainly located in the west half of the United States.
But the report from the Government Accountability Office was critical of the decision, saying that the agency lacked a “strategic work force plan” that could have guided its decision-making. According to the report, many employees decided to leave rather than move to Colorado because of the move.
After the announcement of the 2019 move, 134 people quit the Bureau of Land Management. The total staff was 560. The Bureau of Land Management had 134 employees, out of which 176 were requested to relocate. 135 people refused.
The report, which was reported earlier by The Washington Post, said that other decisions at the agency at the same time — such as changes to its organizational structure — led to additional departures and an increased reliance on “details,” or employees from other agencies who are temporarily assigned to perform the duties of a position that has been vacated.
The result, the report said, was a “loss of headquarters staff, increased numbers of headquarters vacancies, a loss of experienced staff and decreased representation of employees of some races and ethnicities. Increased vacancies, and the details used to temporarily fill those vacancies, sometimes led to confusion and inefficiency.”
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced in September that she had decided to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to move the Bureau of Land Management’s headquarters.
But Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona and the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, had requested the Government Accountability Office’s report. He asked the accountability office to examine changes in the bureau’s work force after the decision by the Trump administration.
The report’s authors stated that it was difficult to evaluate the full impact of the move and other changes at 8800-person agency, as officials didn’t have complete data on vacancies or other personnel issues.
According to the report, there was no significant change in the racial or ethnic composition of the agency following the relocation of its headquarters.
Before the move, about 83 percent of the bureau’s employees were white, about 8 percent were Hispanic, about 3.3 percent were Black, and the rest were Native American, Asian or other. The makeup of the bureau was now 80 percent white, 9.5% Hispanic, 3.1% Black, and slightly higher for other racial or ethnic groups.
The report revealed that the changes in the racial makeup the headquarters staff had been much more significant.
Black employees made up more than 21 percent of the staff at the Bureau of Land Management headquarters — perhaps reflecting the population of Washington, D.C., which is about 45 percent Black, according to the 2019 census. The report stated that the racial makeup of the staff was different after the move to Colorado.
“By January 2021, after the relocation was completed, the number of Black or African American headquarters staff decreased by more than half, making up 12 percent of total headquarters staff,” the report said.
The authors asked the Bureau of Land Management for more detailed tracking of vacancies in its workforce to enable them to better understand the impact of its leadership decisions.
They also recommended that the agency’s senior officials create a strategic plan to guide them on future changes to its personnel.
“B.L.M. does not have complete and reliable data on vacancies and details, and, therefore, does not have a complete picture of its staffing needs,” the report concluded, referring to the Bureau of Land Management. “Without such data on vacancies and details across the agency, B.L.M. officials do not have complete information to make decisions about filling vacancies and initiating details to help the agency achieve its mission and goals.”
Bureau officials responded to the report by saying that they would make these changes.
“Moving forward, the B.L.M. intends to establish a more standardized process to track vacancies and detailees bureauwide,” Laura Daniel-Davis, the principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, wrote in the agency’s response.
She added that the agency was “currently in the process of developing a process for bureauwide strategic work force planning.”
Source: NY Times