Scott Streater E&E News Piece on BLM Staffing and Hiring – and More Questions

Above chart given to Scott Streater of E&E News.

Folks, Scott Streater (reporter at E&E News) and I were not in collusion here..but I guess folks are naturally wondering two years into the new Administration, how has the BLM progressed in fixing what went wrong during the Trump Administration. And perhaps there were forces responsible for loss of folks (like the natural post-Covid forces or retirement of more Boomers) that didn’t have to do with Trump. The Forest Service is also down and having trouble hiring people. And according to this tweet by Kelly Lunney, Interior Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau says:

Finding qualified engineers who understand drought, water issues for Reclamation is a challenge, says Interior official @DepSecBeaudreau @EnergyDems hearing. Hopes to finish hiring 400 new staff (they are about 1/4 there) in coming year @SenMarkKelly

So, we might wonder, for BLM and FS folks, to what extent are the right kind of people not being hired due to 1) they’re not out there (universities aren’t producing them), 2) they don’t want to work for the Feds 3) they don’t want to work in the places BLM and FS (perhaps not so much BOR?) want them to (with DC being a special case of high cost of living); maybe they prefer remote work, 4) they don’t want to do the work that Feds have (field as opposed to computer), or 5) can’t make their way through the federal hiring processes? Please feel free to add your own reasons and your own experiences.

So let’s go back to Scott Streeter’s article from yesterday and see if we can pick up inklings about those questions for BLM.

can’t tell if it has a paywall, here’s the link to his story.

Note: The differences between these BLM numbers and the ones I noted in the previous post from “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government” are still puzzling.

But the bureau’s overall staffing level now stands at 12,183 authorized employees, marking a significant increase after dropping during the Trump administration below the minimum 10,000-employee threshold BLM has said it needs to oversee the 245 million acres the bureau manages, according to the table of organization chart obtained by E&E News.

BLM Director Tracy Stone-Manning has said doing so is her top priority after former President Donald Trump’s Interior Department reorganized the bureau’s headquarters, prompting hundreds of staffers to leave.

Logic, here.. if they are down 3,073 positions and the Trump Admin prompted “hundreds” of staffers to leave.. it’s not really about the Trump Admin is it? I guess unless you’re DOI comms…

The vast majority of the vacant positions — 2,732 in total — are at BLM’s 12 state offices, according to the chart.

I thought this was particularly interesting..

For example, 46 percent of the 72 permanent positions within the energy, minerals and realty management department that oversees all onshore energy development, including oil, natural gas and coal, as well as renewable energy, were vacant as of Nov. 19, the chart shows.

I have a couple of hypotheses here.. perhaps the Admin’s obvious dislike of fossil fuels might lead to some kind of hostile work environment- or perhaps be just a little demoralizing? Or no one wants to go to work in a seemingly dying field? Or perhaps back to universities aren’t churning them out, or the positions require experience in the field at higher levels and that’s missing? Would be interesting to interview some of these folks (or recent retirees) and get their views.

As to headquarters employees:

“Headquarters employees are continuing to feel the strain brought on both by the continued vacancies and the overall reduction in the workforce that occurred with the move West,” Paulete said in an email. “Employees are burdened with doing multiple jobs to cover vacancies and have a workload to cover that previously had been done by multiple positions that were eliminated” during the Trump years.

She added that union representatives have reached out to BLM to work with the bureau on strategies to solve the issue, but so far she said the bureau has yet to take them up on the offer.

It sounds like there was both a reduction in number of HQ people, and the move itself. I hadn’t actually picked up on that before. Although staff reductions in one place do tend to pile up work in other areas, if the same work is done the same way. But in the case of NM there was apparently no actual reduction, and people are still overworked.

But Davidson said “the high vacancy rate” remains a top concern for BLM New Mexico staffers.

“The number of vacancies impacts workplace conditions for employees because many staff have been asked to work two or more jobs resulting in overworked and burnt out staff,” Davidson said in an email.

She also said BLM is too slow to approve employee requests to work remotely and that the “private sector” and other government agencies that “offer higher wages and remote positions” have successfully poached bureau staffers, adding to the vacancy issues.

“We hope the agency will fill more positions remotely to retain the workforce we need to serve the public,” she said.

I thought this was particularly interesting, as it brings up possible interagency federal competition with higher wages and remote positions, and the observation that people are easier to hire if they can work remotely. I’d like to know more about which series are being poached by the private sector. I’d think foresters in NM, not so much.

In addition to increased funding, BLM is also working to ease the hiring process in the name of filling vacant positions.

Stone-Manning told employees at town hall meetings at the Oregon-Washington office in August and the Colorado office in September that the bureau wants to reduce the time it takes to obtain security clearances and has already cut in half the amount of time needed for conditional preappointment screenings and the number of days needed to process temporary promotions and work details (Greenwire, Oct. 4).

She also said that BLM is conducting a workforce assessment of the bureau’s personnel structure to determine where there are gaps in expertise and specific job skills, and to identify where new positions might need to be established.

It seems to me that there might be a need for “best hiring practices” across the federal government since so many Bureaus and Agencies seem to be struggling.

And to end with a dose of humor, apparently the Hotshot Wakeup Person lost access to his Instagram account because someone reported this as “dangerous and harmful.”

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