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The BLM Promised Its Move Out West Was The Best Possible Option. A Watchdog Report Says Otherwise. By Caitlyn Kim March 6, 2020.
“If the goal behind the Bureau of Land Management’s move out west is about reform, a Congressional watchdog agency says the Department of the Interior has not used best practices to make it happen.”
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: BLM LEADER TOUTS BENEFITS OF AGENCY’S HEADQUARTERS RELOCATION TO WEST “Deputy Director for Policy and Programs William Perry Pendley recently traveled to Grand Junction, Colorado where the new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) headquarters will be located. He met with leadership across the BLM and provided details on the relocation efforts taking place. He also sat down with the Grand Junction Sentinel to discuss the importance and positive impact of the move.”
“The BLM is relocating its headquarters functions and other supporting offices to the American West. This move will benefit the public we serve as well as the bureau and our employees. Moving the people who make critical decisions about the lands and programs we manage will help provide a greater on-the-ground understanding and will also foster better partnerships with communities and organizations there.”
“The Bureau of Land Management announced in 2019 that most of its employees in Washington, D.C., will be transferred to offices in western states. We assessed the bureau’s reorganization efforts against key practices for agency reforms. The bureau established goals for the reorganization, but did not establish performance measures. We also found that the bureau’s implementation plan did not include milestones, which would help ensure that the reforms are being achieved as intended and in a timely manner. We recommended that the bureau establish outcome-oriented performance measures to assess the effectiveness of the reorganization.”
“Based on the documents we reviewed, BLM partially addressed key reform practices for using data and evidence when developing reforms. (See fig. 4.) Specifically, in a draft white paper on the relocation of BLM’s headquarters to the West, dated May 16, 2019, BLM presented data and evidence on leasing rates, demographics, and lifestyle attributes in Washington, D.C., and four western locations. The white paper generally, but not always, included sources for the data it presented. However, it did not describe a methodology for choosing a location for BLM’s new headquarters. For example, it did not explain how information would be evaluated or how BLM would rank factors to select the preferred location. The white paper also noted BLM was working with Interior’s Office of Policy, Management, and Budget to create a report that analyzes the most suitable location for a western headquarters. However, as of February 20, 2020, BLM had not provided us such a report. Other documents included some discussion of potential costs and benefits but noted that more analysis was needed to make a determination. We requested this information, but as of February 20, 2020, BLM had not provided it to us.” Page 8
A librarian searched the DOI website including their FOIA page for the white paper mentioned in the GAO report without success and has initiated a FOIA request for it.
co-published on govdoc-l and freegovinfo.info.
“An official at the Interior Department embarked on a campaign that has inserted misleading language about climate change – including debunked claims that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is beneficial – into the agency’s scientific reports, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times…The Interior Department’s emails, dating from 2017 through last year and obtained under public-records laws by the watchdog group Energy and Policy Institute, provide the latest evidence of the Trump administration’s widespread attacks on government scientific work. The administration has halted or scaled back numerous research projects since taking office, including an Obama-era initiative to fight disease outbreaks around the world – a decision that has drawn criticism in recent weeks as a deadly coronavirus has spread globally…The misleading language appears in environmental studies and impact statements affecting major watersheds including the Klamath and Upper Deschutes river basins in California and Oregon, which provide critical habitat for spawning salmon and other wildlife. In addition, millions of acres of farms in California’s agriculturally important Central Valley are supplied, in part, by the Klamath, which is California’s second-largest river by volume and is only slightly smaller than the Colorado River. Thirsty farms there have used increasing amounts of water at a rate that scientists say hurts wildlife and imperils the salmon industry.”
It would be useful to know which reports contain the language and if they are in the Federal Depository Library Program. Neither the New York Times article nor the Energy and Policy Institute mention the titles. I’ll inquire at the Institute in case they can provide.
co-published on govdoc-l and freegovinfo.info.
Russ Kick of AltGov2 is again on the FOIA case. This time he’s analyzed the Department of Interior’s proposed changes to their FOIA regulations (and helpfully cobbled together the current regulations with DoI’s proposed changes). Comments on the proposed changes can be submitted electronically by JANUARY 28, 2019. Here’s the current regulations and the proposed rules changes posted to regulations.gov.
Here’s my own take on this. Department of Interior’s reason for updating its FOIA regulations is that they’ve had “Exponential increases in requests and litigation.” From Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 to FY 2018, incoming FOIA requests to the Department increased 30 percent (from 6,428 to over 8,350). So it would make sense that they’d want to update their regulations to deal with the exponential increase in requests. But instead of requesting more staff to deal with the increase in requests or look for ways to proactively release more records, their proposed changes:
- look to expand the definition and reasoning of “burdensome” requests that can be denied. “The bureau will not honor a request that requires an unreasonably burdensome search or requires the bureau to locate, review, redact, or arrange for inspection of a vast quantity of material.”
- place monthly limits on the number of requests per month from frequent requesters.
- Make it more confusing and difficult to submit requests (eg it’s unclear whether requests will be accepted via email in the new regs).
- No longer refer or forward mistakenly directed requests. “A request to a particular bureau or a particular bureau component (for example, a request addressed to a regional or field office) will be presumed to seek only records from that particular bureau or particular component and will not be forwarded to another bureau or component.”
- Change “time limits” to “time frames,” making the time to fulfill requests more squishy and undefined.
There’s probably more buried in this request. Check out Russ’ analysis at MuckRock. And PLEASE send comments to Department of Interior about their proposed changes. Comments on the proposed changes can be submitted electronically by JANUARY 28, 2019.
The Department of the Interior wants to drastically change how it deals with Freedom of Information Act requests. To do that, it had to make a proposal, published in the Federal Register, that the public can comment on for 30 days. In theory, it has to consider this input before finalizing any changes to its FOIA regulations.
That proposal was published on December 28th, 2018, which is 1) a Friday 2) in the middle of the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day 3) during a government shutdown. Any one of those is a tried-and-true way to slip something past the public, but all three simultaneously? That is the trifecta of bureaucratic underhandedness.
So, now that the holidays are behind us for another year, let’s take a look at Interior’s FOIA wishlist, which is primarily designed to hobble requesters and solidify the department’s power. (To make it easier to see the many changes Interior wants, I’ve created a redline version of their currently FOIA regulations, with added language in bold and deletions in strikethrough, which you can see here.)
Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) submits comment to NARA re Dept of Interior records schedule request
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) just sent me a PDF copy of the comment that they submitted to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) regarding the Department of Interior records schedule request. This letter, combined with the others from DLF, transparency organizations, and Stanford Libraries offers a finely grained analysis of the overall problem and suggestions for moving forward in making the scheduling process much more transparent and in understanding and preserving important government records. Many thanks to these organizations and the many others who submitted comments.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to safeguarding the earth: its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. On behalf of our over 3 million members and online activists, NRDC submits the following comments regarding the Department of the Interior’s proposed updates to its records schedule, DAA-0048-2015-0003. See Notice of availability of proposed records schedules, 83 Fed. Reg. 45,979, 45,980 (Sept. 11, 2018). NRDC also joins the letter submitted by the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School. We appreciate the willingness of the National Archives and Records Administration to work with interested parties and extend the comment period to permit public inspection of Interior’s retention policy for such vital records.
The proposed schedule covers records that are central to the public’s understanding of the Department of the Interior’s (“Interior’s”) stewardship of our nation’s public lands and natural resources. Moreover, it encompasses records of activities that might have long-lasting or permanent implications for both human health and the environment. But the proposed schedule permits some records to be destroyed while they may still be substantially valuable to the public, while other retention policies are too vague to assess their impact. Moreover, the high publicity and comprehensive nature of Interior’s schedule change highlights shortcomings in NARA’s approval process for agency records schedules. Interior’s records schedule should be amended to ensure that valuable records are preserved for public inspection.
Digital Library Federation and government transparency community submit comments to NARA re DoI records schedule
Today was the last day to comment on the draft Department of Interior records scheduling request (originally posted here on FGI “Holes in History: The Dept of Interior request to destroy records.”). I’m aware that 2 groups — the Digital Library Federation’s Government Records Transparency and Accountability working group (GRTA) and a broad coalition of government transparency organizations including Government Information Watch, FGI, Defending Rights & Dissent, Demand Progress, Public Citizen, FracTracker Alliance, National Coalition for History, Association of Research Libraries, Rural Coalition, Society of Professional Journalists, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), and ICPSR — have submitted comments and listed concerns and ideas for how to make the records scheduling process more transparent. I think these letters, combined with Stanford UL’s letter to AOTUS Ferriero, raise important points and issues in the records scheduling process in general and in the Department of Interior’s request specifically and give suggestions for how to make the process more transparent and publicly accessible.
NARA does yeoman’s work and is critical to the public understanding of the workings of our government. Hopefully, these and other comments received by concerned citizens and organizations will improve access and preservation of important records.