Federal Agency Transfers Hurt Diversity, Watchdog Finds

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Federal Agency Transfers Hurt Diversity, Watchdog Finds

WASHINGTON — The 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 because veteran workers — especially African American — left instead of relocating, A government watchdog said in a report released this week.

President Donald J. Senior Interior Department officials under Trump had argued that the move was needed to ensure that top workers were close to the federal land that the agency manages, much of which is in the western part of the United States.

But the Government Accountability Office report criticized the decision, saying the agency lacked a “strategic task force plan” that could guide its decision-making. As a result, the report found, the move caused many staff members to leave rather than relocate to Colorado.

Out of a total workforce of about 560 people, 134 people left the Bureau of Land Management after the move was announced in 2019. Of the remaining people, 176 were asked to move, but 135 refused.

The report, first reported by The Washington Post, said that at the same time the agency’s other decisions – such as changes to its organizational structure – led to additional departures and reliance on “details” or employees of other agencies. . who have been assigned to perform the duties of the post temporarily vacated.

The result, the report said, was “loss of headquarters staff, increase in the number of headquarters vacancies, loss of experienced staff and decreased representation of employees of certain castes and ethnicities. Vacancies increased, and those vacancies were made temporary.” The details used for filling the form, sometimes lead to confusion and inefficiency.”

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Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced in September that she had decided to reverse the Trump administration’s decision to move the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management.

But Representative Raul M. Grijalva, Arizona’s Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, requested the Government Accountability Office report. He asked the Accountability Office to investigate changes to the bureau’s workforce following the Trump administration’s decision.

The report’s authors said it was difficult to assess the full impact of the move and other changes at the 8,800-person agency because officials did not maintain comprehensive data about vacancies and other personnel issues.

The report noted that there has been a slight change in the racial and ethnic composition of the overall agency following the relocation of the 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. After the change, the makeup was 80 percent white, 9.5 percent Hispanic, 3.1 percent black and a slightly larger share for other racial and ethnic groups.

But the report found that the changes in the racial makeup of headquarters staff were far more significant.

According to the 2019 census, Black employees made up more than 21 percent of the workforce at Bureau of Land Management headquarters—perhaps reflecting the population of Washington, D.C., which is roughly 45 percent Black. The report said that after moving to Colorado, the racial makeup was different.

“As of January 2021, following the completion of the transfer, the number of Black or African American headquarters employees has dropped by more than half, representing 12 percent of total headquarters employees,” the report said.

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The authors urged the Bureau of Land Management to track vacancies across their entire workforce more closely so that they can better understand the implications of decisions by their leadership.

He also recommended that senior officers of the agency prepare a strategic plan to guide their personnel on future changes.

“The BLM 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 in the agency, BLM officials do not have the complete information to make decisions about how to fill vacancies and start details to help the agency achieve its mission and goals. “

Bureau officials said in response to the report that they intended to make those changes.

“Going forward, the BLM intends to establish a more standardized process to track vacancies and details bureauwides,” wrote Laura Daniel-Davis, the principal deputy assistant secretary for land and mineral management, in the agency’s response. .

He added that the agency was “currently in the process of developing a process for bureauwide strategic task force planning.”

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