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HELENA, MT, September 1, 2020 – Following the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General report that concluded that Interior officials misled Congress, Western Values Project Director Jayson O’Neill issued the following response:   

“As this investigation rightfully concludes, the relocation of America’s largest public lands management bureau was based on false pretenses in order to achieve the Trump administration’s objectives of forcing career officials to quit and giving polluting fossil fuel corporations direct access to key officials. It appears they have accomplished both at the expense of our tax dollars, public lands, and outdoor heritage.”   

Learn more about the Bureau of Land Management’s new co-working space with oil and gas special interests at www.wedrillhq.com.   

Background: 

Statement: Investigation Says BLM Relocation Effort Did Not Conduct Full Cost-Benefit Analysis and Lacked Plan 

Mulvaney: Relocating Offices is a ‘Wonderful Way’ to Shed Federal Employees 

Watchdog Launches Effort Demanding Answers on Reckless Public Lands Bureau Relocation 

FACT CHECK: New BLM HQ Move Talking Points Filled with Political Spin, Falsehoods 

A Million Reasons Senator Gardner is Pushing for Bureau of Land Management Move 

Taxpayers, Public Lands Lose as Bureau of Land Management Move Plows Ahead 

New BLM headquarters to share a building with a Chevron corporate office 

Key Details Of Investigation: Acting BLM Director William Perry Pendley And Former DOI Staffer Joseph Balash Lied In Their Congressional Testimony About Why They Choose To Uproot The Bureau Of Land Management Headquarters   

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Acting Bureau Of Land Management Director William Perry Pendley Lied In His Written Testimony To Congress, Claiming Renewing BLM’s Lease Was “Not An Option,” When They Decision To Leave That Location Was Made “Years Earlier.” “We found that the DOI and BLM representations to Congress that a new lease at 20 M Street was not possible because the new rate would exceed $50 per rsf were misleading. As described above, two of the statements—one in Balash’s July 16, 2019 letters and the other in Pendley’s written testimony—read: ‘A renewed lease for [20] M Street is not an option, as the new rate would exceed $50 per square foot.’ Similarly, Balash’s letter to Congress in August 2019, stated, ‘I want to preface this response, however, by reiterating that the lease on the BLM’s [20] M Street location will end on December 31, 2020, and cannot be renewed. This location’s current estimated lease rate value would exceed the General Service Administration’s lease rate of $50.00 … Thus, remaining at M Street is not an option for the Bureau.’ There are two inaccuracies in each of these statements […] The evidence showed, however, that as early as 2016, the DOI and the BLM intended for the BLM to move out of the 20 M Street location and into a Federal facility, and thus, did not pursue negotiations with the GSA for a lease renewal or extension. Therefore, the reason a new lease was not possible at the time Balash and Pendley made their statements to Congress was not due to the potential $50 per rsf cost of the lease, but rather because the Department never seriously considered pursuing a lease renewal at 20 M Street and would have had to make that decision years earlier.”” [Department of Interior Inspector General Report, 09/01/20]    Former Assistant Secretary For Land And Minerals Management Joe Balash Also Lied To Congress In His July 2019 Letter. “We found that the DOI and BLM representations to Congress that a new lease at 20 M Street was not possible because the new rate would exceed $50 per rsf were misleading. As described above, two of the statements—one in Balash’s July 16, 2019 letters and the other in Pendley’s written testimony—read: ‘A renewed lease for [20] M Street is not an option, as the new rate would exceed $50 per square foot.’ Similarly, Balash’s letter to Congress in August 2019, stated, ‘I want to preface this response, however, by reiterating that the lease on the BLM’s [20] M Street location will end on December 31, 2020, and cannot be renewed. This location’s current estimated lease rate value would exceed the General Service Administration’s lease rate of $50.00 … Thus, remaining at M Street is not an option for the Bureau.’ There are two inaccuracies in each of these statements.” [Department of Interior Inspector General Report, 09/01/20]    Shortly After His Misleading Congressional Letter, Joe Balash To Go Work For The Papua New Guinea-Based Oil Search, Which Was “Developing One Of Alaska’s Largest Oil Prospects.” “Now, Joe Balash — who oversaw oil and gas drilling on federal lands before resigning from Interior on Friday — is joining a foreign oil company that is expanding operations on Alaska’s North Slope. Balash, who served as the Interior Department’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management for nearly two years, confirmed in a phone interview Tuesday night that he will begin working for the Papua New Guinea-based Oil Search, which is developing one of Alaska’s largest oil prospects in years. On Wednesday, Oil Search officials said he would become senior vice president for external affairs in the company’s Alaska operations.” [Washington Post, 09/04/19]    Both Pendley And Balash Also Asserted A New Lease “Would Definitely” Exceed $50 Per Square Foot, But “None Of The Evidence Indicates That GSA Officials Told DOI Personnel That The Rate Would Definitely Be Higher Than $50” Per Square Foot. “First, these statements assert that the new lease rate would definitely exceed $50 per rsf. The available evidence indicates, however, that neither the GSA, the DOI, nor the BLM conducted market research to determine what the lease rate would be. In addition, the evidence indicated that GSA officials repeatedly stated that DOI officials could use $50 per rsf as an estimate. None of the evidence indicates that GSA officials told DOI personnel that the rate would definitely be higher than $50 per rsf. In the DOI’s and BLM’s statements, though, the GSA officials’ $50 per rsf approximation morphed into a statement that the rate would exceed that $50 rate. The second inaccuracy in the DOI and BLM statements is that the documents make an erroneous causal connection between the cost of the renewed lease and the BLM’s inability to renew that lease. In particular, Balash’s July 2019 letter and Pendley’s testimony state that ‘A renewed lease…is not an option, as the new rate would exceed $50 per square foot.’ Balash’s August 2019 letter makes a similar connection between these two concepts, saying the 20 M Street location’s ‘current estimated lease rate value would exceed [$50.00 per square foot]’” Department of Interior Inspector General Report, 09/01/20]  

Western Values Project, an Accountable.US project based in Montana, defends America’s public lands through research and public education to expose special interest influence on policymakers who are charged with making key decisions in order to protect the West’s outdoor heritage.