Testifying on Interior Reorganization

by Kathleen Sgamma, President on December 15, 2017 - 12:06pm

Western Energy Alliance has been supporting efforts to relocate BLM out West and has helped drive that discussion forward. I recently testified before the House Natural Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee in a hearing about reorganizing the Department of the Interior (DOI).

Besides showing support for moving the BLM headquarters out West, where 99% of the land and economic impact from public lands are located, I discussed other ideas for DOI reorganization that Secretary Zinke has floated. 

One idea is creating Interior regions based on ecosystems or watersheds. Secretary Zinke hasn’t released any details and doesn’t seem open to receiving input on the idea, so I can only surmise at this point. However, the notion of organizing BLM and other agencies according to ecosystems smacks of the BLM planning 2.0 rule that Congress overturned earlier this year. We worked hard to get that repealed, and to have Interior turn around and put something similar in its place is unworkable.

The current BLM state office structure remains sound, with state offices for each state with a critical mass of public lands, roughly 30% or more. I related our experience stopping the combination of the Arizona and New Mexico BLM offices during the Obama Administration.

I also discussed Secretary Zinke’s idea of instituting a joint command structure with rotating leadership among the various bureaus. Zinke’s idea comes from his experience in the military, but I’m also a veteran and have seen how joint commands work. The military is very different from civilian agencies like Interior. The armed services are mission focused, with the ultimate shared goal of defending America; their means to do so are different although complementary, but even so, tensions do arise.

Not so with Interior. The bureaus that comprise DOI have very different missions, and many are largely process oriented versus goal directed, with inherently conflicting missions. The National Park Service (NPS) has a conservation-only mission, whereas BLM’s mission is multiple-use. Some BLM lands are appropriate for conservation only and are managed accordingly, but the vast majority are working landscapes appropriate for grazing, mining, energy development and other productive uses. An NPS official, who has an inherent  conservation-only mindset, should not have a veto over multiple-use land decisions on BLM lands.

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