Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is pressing ahead with a massive overhaul of his department, despite growing opposition to his proposal to move hundreds of public employees out of Washington and create a new organizational map that largely ignores state boundaries.
Zinke wants to divide most of the department’s 70,000 employees and their responsibilities into 13 regions based on rivers and ecosystems, instead of the current map based mostly on state lines.
The proposal would relocate many of the Interior Department’s top decision-makers from Washington to still-undisclosed cities in the West. The headquarters of some of its major bureaus also would move to the West.
The concept — supported in principle by many Western politicians from both parties — is to get top officials closer to the natural resources and cultural sites they manage. The Interior Department oversees a vast expanse of public lands, mainly in the West, that are rich in wildlife, parks, archaeological and historic sites, oil and gas, coal and grazing ranges.
It also oversees huge dams and reservoirs that are vital to some of the West’s largest cities and most productive agricultural land.
Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, suspects the plan is an attempt to undercut the department by pressuring senior employees to quit rather than relocating, leaving positions unfilled and creating confusion about who regulates what.
“I think it’s a very thinly disguised attempt to gut the Department of Interior and its bureaus,” he said.
Grijalva also questioned the value of moving more department employees West, saying more than 90 percent are already in field offices outside Washington.