Washington, DC June 21, 2017 – An already thinning Bureau of Land Management is warned to gird for further staff cutbacks, with possible buyouts if Trump targets are not met, according to agency documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Amidst the reductions, BLM staff are directed to focus on Trump priorities of energy production, border security and job creation.
In a June 16th all-hands email, BLM Acting Director Michael Nedd told employees that the agency was preparing to aim for “1,000 fewer full-time equivalent employees across the Nation.” If this quota could not be reached through “normal attrition” then BLM could “seek authority from the Office of Personnel Management to offer early retirement and voluntary separation incentives later this year.”
Despite being the smallest federal land agency, BLM has by far the largest jurisdiction – managing 245 million acres of land (an area the size of Texas and Montana combined) and 700 million acres of mineral estate. While demands on it have grown, the agency workforce has declined by more than a fifth since 2010. The loss of an additional 1,000 positions would shrink it by nearly a third since the decade’s start.
An accompanying Frequently Asked Questions memo explains how to cope with a 13% overall budget cut by breaking all BLM activities into “buckets.” The Trump agenda occupies the “first bucket…The second bucket includes the work we must do by law or regulation that is not already in the first bucket.”
“According to Trump’s fantasy plan, BLM is supposed to achieve ‘energy independence’ before its coffee break, stimulate rural ‘job creation’ by lunch and do it with substantially less resources,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that these instructions fail to identify a single function that BLM is supposed to set aside. “It is disturbing but perhaps not surprising that BLM staff are directed to put political hobbyhorses ahead of legally required duties.”
After last November’s election, PEER sent surveys concerning resources, performance and direction to BLM managers, range, fire and scientific staff in nine Western states. Pertinent responses include:
- More than two-thirds of respondents do not think BLM has enough resources to accomplish its mission, with only a quarter saying it does;
- Less than a third “have confidence” in BLM Headquarters leadership or believe that the agency is “more capable” than it was five years ago; and
- Half of respondents agree with the statement “In my experience, energy development has come to dominate BLM priorities”–nearly double those who disagree.
In a survey essay about what the new administration should do, one BLM employee wrote:
“My office is currently understaffed and has been for many years…Many employees are performing the work of multiple employees as positions are not being refilled. Critical work is not being completed or timelines being extended.”
“Compared to staffing of other agencies, such as the Park Service, BLM is a bureaucratic Bangladesh,” added Ruch. “Its employees are saying that there is no blood left to be squeezed from the BLM turnip.”