GAO Report on BLM Workforce – Separating the Headquarters Move From Other Trends

A GAO report was released Thursday that says..

Most BLM staff GAO spoke with said vacancies in key headquarters positions caused delays in creating or clarifying guidance or policy. Further, some said an increased reliance on details negatively affected their office’s performance—for example, because state office staff detailed to headquarters reduced capacity in state offices. Without complete and reliable data on vacancies and details across the agency, BLM officials cannot make informed decisions about filling vacancies and initiating details to help the agency achieve its mission and goals.

GAO also found that BLM does not have an agency-wide strategic workforce plan that supports its mission and programmatic goals. BLM officials told GAO their mechanism for strategic workforce planning is a 2019 memorandum, but this memorandum generally does not address the two critical needs that define strategic workforce planning: (1) aligning the human capital program with emerging mission goals and (2) developing long-term strategies for acquiring, developing, and retaining staff to achieve programmatic goals. Without a strategic workforce plan that addresses these needs, BLM lacks reasonable assurance the agency will have the workforce necessary to achieve its goals in managing millions of acres of public lands.

I wonder how many agencies have such a plan? in 2010 GAO did a study that recommended this for Interior, EPA and the FS. In 2021 testimony, Chief Christiansen said “We are stewarding the Forest Service through this change with strategic workforce planning and collaboratively managing all operations within our allocated budgets.”


Here’s a  WaPo quote:

“In our interviews with 13 BLM staff members, almost all told us that the loss of experienced staff negatively affected their offices’ ability to conduct its duties,” the report said. “For example, one staff member said that the loss of institutional knowledge about laws and regulations meant that BLM was not able to provide knowledgeable input on proposed rules and legislation.”

I think it’s very interesting that BLM would have so much less capacity – no “knowledgeable input” or had all its “institutional knowledge”  in DC, and none elsewhere.  Maybe the exceedingly knowledgeable folks (about planning, and the legal folks) I’ve run into at BLM have been the exception, rather than the rule.

The WaPo story focuses on Blacks.  But you may notice the increases in representation of Asians, Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska Natives between 2016 and 2021. If you add the numbers, they added 167 more diverse people, and lost 26.

Among a host of troubling diversity data, Grijalva wrote in a letter obtained by The Washington Post, “one of the most alarming statistics is that there are only 312 Black/African American employees nationwide at the agency, less than 3.5 percent of the BLM workforce” of about 9,000 people.

It’s hard for me to imagine that this low number was entirely the fault of an administration with one four-year term.


The upheaval also drained the agency of its most experienced career civil servants. The percentage of BLM staff with at least 25 years of service at Interior declined from 24 percent to 17 percent during the Trump administration.

I don’t know if the BLM is like the FS with large chunks of people hired at one time and then fewer .. this could also influence the percentages.  The whole problem of loss of experience through retirement has been identified as a serious problem by many agencies.  But I don’t think we know how much of the retirements were due to “the upheaval” without asking the retirees themselves.  Most people I know have a complex mix of reasons they choose to retire; and many don’t like R administration policies in general.  Programs like ACES for the Forest Service and NRCS, and Department of the Interior Experienced Services Program are designed to help with those transitions as older folks retire.


Lots of other interesting information in the report to discuss.

2 thoughts on “GAO Report on BLM Workforce – Separating the Headquarters Move From Other Trends”

  1. Yet another partisan anti-trump race-baiting piece from the WaPo. If the previous administration had anything to do with it, it’s racist. I don’t see the numbers for 2015 up there but based on what I keep seeing in the news, every ethnicity must have been represented perfectly based on their percentage of the overall population. Wild how things changed so fast.

    Trying to balance everything using race as the measuring stick is wrong. History cannot be undone and is being written constantly.

    • Maybe you need to watch some factual news.

      Race-baiting: “the unfair use of statements about race to try to influence the actions or attitudes of a particular group of people” (Merriam-Webster) with regard to that race. You’ll have to explain how that fits this situation.


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