Salazar says Reform Due for Oil and Gas Leases on Public Lands

Taft: Interior Secretary Salazar Launches Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reforms
Reforms Will Make Oil Drilling Tougher on Public Lands, Carrizo Plain
January 8, 2010

Citing a need to improve certainty and order in oil and gas leasing on U.S. public lands, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced several reforms that the Bureau of Land Management will undertake to improve protections for land, water, and wildlife and reduce potential conflicts that can lead to costly and time-consuming protests and litigation of leases. Interior will also establish a new Energy Reform Team to identify and implement important energy management reforms.
“The previous Administration’s anywhere, anyhow policy on oil and gas development ran afoul of communities, carved up the landscape, and fueled costly conflicts that created uncertainty for investors and industry,” said Secretary Salazar. “We need a fresh look – from inside the federal government and from outside – at how we can better manage Americans” energy resources.
Les Clark of the Independent Oil Producers Association told the Independent that the IOPA opposes these new guidelines and said that the government is just making it more difficult for oil producers to lease and explore for oil on public lands.
According to Salazar, the new guidance BLM is issuing for field managers will help bring clarity, consistency, and public engagement to the onshore oil and gas leasing process while balancing the many resource values that the Bureau of Land Management is entrusted with protecting on behalf of the American people. “In addition, with the help of our new Energy Reform Team, we will improve the Department’s internal operations to better manage publicly owned energy resources and the revenues they produce.”
Many of the reforms that the Bureau of Land Management will undertake follow the recommendations of an interdisciplinary review team that studied a controversial 2008 oil and gas lease sale in Utah.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy issued a statement about the new policy and said, “The Department of Interior’s decision takes a step backward in ensuring that our families have reliable access to affordable American energy. Our local communities are blessed with abundant resources that can be responsibly developed, creating good, well-paying jobs and promoting domestic energy production. Rather than promoting this, Interior’s additional layer of bureaucracy could instead lead to higher energy prices at a time when hardworking Americans are already shouldering high costs.”
Under the reformed oil and gas leasing policy, BLM will provide:
Comprehensive interdisciplinary reviews that take into account site-specific considerations for individual lease sales. Resource Management Plans will continue to provide programmatic-level guidance, but individual parcels nominated for leasing will undergo increased internal and external coordination, public participation, interdisciplinary review of available information, confirmation of Resource Management Plan conformance as well as site visits to parcels when necessary; Greater public involvement in developing Master Leasing and Development Plans for areas where intensive new oil and gas extraction is anticipated so that other important natural resource values can be fully considered prior to making an irreversible commitment to develop an area; Leadership in identifying areas where new oil and gas leasing will occur. The bureau will continue to accept industry expressions of interest regarding where to offer leases, but will emphasize leasing in already-developed areas and will plan carefully for leasing and development in new areas.
BLM Director Bob Abbey said the increased opportunity for public participation and a more thorough environmental review process and documentation can help reduce the number of protests filed as well as enhance BLM?s ability to resolve protests prior to lease sales. A comparison of the new guidance with current policy can be found here.
“The new approach can help restore certainty and predictability to a system currently burdened by constant legal challenges and protests,” said Abbey. “It will also support the BLM’s multiple-use mission, which requires management of the public lands to provide opportunities for activities such as recreation, conservation, and energy development?both conventional and renewable.”
BLM will also issue guidance regarding the use of categorical exclusions, or CXs, established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and that allow the bureau to approve some oil and gas development activities based on existing environmental or planning analysis. Under the new policy, in accordance with White House Council on Environmental Quality guidelines, BLM will not use these CX’s in cases involving “extraordinary circumstances” such as impacts to protected species, historic or cultural resources, or human health and safety.
Salazar also issued a Secretarial Order establishing an Energy Reform Team within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management that will identify and oversee implementation of energy reforms.
“The creation of the new Team focuses on our important stewardship responsibility in the management of the nation’s energy resources,” said Wilma Lewis, Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management. “Through its work, the team will promote efficiency and effectiveness in the development of renewable and conventional energy resources, so that we can be properly accountable to the American public.”
Under the Assistant Secretary’s direction, the Energy Reform Team will provide greater coordination and improved accountability to ensure the orderly, efficient, responsible and timely development of public resources critical for our national energy security. Through its own efforts, as well as by considering good ideas from stakeholders, industry, and the public, the Team will help ensure that Interior is a responsible steward of the public resources it manages and obtains fair value for energy resources owned by the public.
The new oil and gas leasing guidance and CX guidance will be implemented once BLM has completed final internal reviews.
According to Forest Watch, the Carrizo Plain National Monument, in San Luis Obispo County, has also experienced increased pressure from the oil industry. In 2006, an oil tycoon announced his intent to drill an exploratory well inside the Carrizo Plain National Monument boundary. His lease eventually expired before he was able to do so. In 2008, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum announced its intent to explore for oil on the valley floor of the Carrizo Plain National Monument. That proposal is still pending.

http://www.taftindependent.com/News/ViewArticle/1666

Secretary Salazar is drawing heat from the oil industry. His stance has angered and surprised the industry.

According to the Wall Street Journal,

Business groups fear the administration’s action will discourage domestic energy development, by adding new red tape to the permitting process for oil and gas drilling. In a letter to Mr. Salazar last week, the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, a lobbying group that represents manufacturers, credited the 2005 law with reducing drilling-permit backlogs and boosting natural-gas production.

The Bureau of Land Management will have to reign themselves in. From the WSJ article quoted above:

Mr. Salazar’s action follows litigation from some environmental groups and criticism from the Government Accountability Office that the BLM has often misinterpreted and violated a 2005 federal law. The legislation was designed to speed oil and gas drilling in the West by allowing federal land managers to waive extensive environmental reviews normally required.

Republicans sent a letter of complaint about the reforms.

Environmental groups who have been fighting for curbing of the leases are generally pleased. The Billings Gazette quotes Salazar as saying that the Bush Administration treated public lands like a “candy store.” Previously Salazar had halted land sales that were to take place in Utah, so this latest reform is additional good news for places like the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

Advisory Committee Appointed by Salazar for Carrizo

SLO County

A nine-member advisory committee for the Carrizo Plain National Monument has been reappointed by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.

The committee advises the Bureau of Land Management on resource management issues in the sprawling monument in San Luis Obispo County’s southeastern corner. Four of the members, including the chairman, are from San Luis Obispo County.

They are: Dale Kuhnle, Santa Margarita rancher; Chairman Neil Havlik, city of San Luis Obispo natural resources manager; Jim Patterson, county supervisor from Atascadero; and Robert Pavlik, San Luis Obispo environmental planner.

Other members are: Ellen Cypher, Bakersfield ecologist; Michael Khus-Zarate, Fresno educator; Raymond Watson, Kern County supervisor from Bakersfield; Carl Twisselman, McKittrick rancher; and Raymond Hatch, former mayor of Taft.

David Sneed

What’s our national BLM science coordinator up to? Not a lot.

What has your national science coordinator at the Bureau of Land Management in Washington, D.C. been doing lately? The answer is, not a lot.
Besides giving a conference paper here or there, we can find only one bit of testimony before Congress, a powerpoint presentation, and a few other minor things. The recommendation of the Public Land Foundation seem to have fallen on deaf ears (see below).

What’s being done

Although the directors of land agencies have spoken of their concern about climate change for many years, there is little evidence that actual efforts are under way to create ways to adapt to it. Most of what has gone on, as of the summer of 2008, is still in the category of talking, meeting, and scheduling workshops. However, some agency heads are now trying to construct the guidance that GAO and others said has been sorely missing.

They also are realizing that climate change is not another pesky environmentalist buzzword that should be invoked alongside the usual suspects of habitat loss, invasive species, and the like. Ron Huntsinger, the national science coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management, says, “We have been addressing the impacts of changing climates for some time, but not under the rubric of ‘climate change.’

“We know what some of the anthropogenic causative factors are, and we should be taking appropriate action on those. Right now the focus is on greenhouse gases, which I think is shortsighted. We should be responding to ecosystem changes”—for example, the waste of natural resources, the “extravagant use of energy,” and the use of products like broad-spectrum pesticides—and developing better recycling and transportation systems. “This is a systemic issue not restricted to the effects on climate change, but which encompasses the larger issues of the general health and well-being of humans and natural systems,” Huntsinger says.

Lynn Scarlett, the interior department’s deputy secretary, attributes increased activity at the department to a variety of recent public reports. She points to “the accumulated amount of research information and knowledge building, all of which have come together to amplify the seriousness of the issue and drive people to take action.” She named a number of assessments and task forces, along with the efforts of the USGS. “I think certainly the creation of the Climate Change Task Force by Secretary [Dirk] Kempthorne has been a spark to action. All of these things together, I think, have increased the pace and extent” of action. (Asked about Al Gore’s contribution, she replied: “I don’t know how much that figured into folks’ thoughts. I haven’t heard that mentioned by folks as a driver.”)

The Climate Change Task Force that Scarlett cites, and which she heads, brings together some three dozen interior department experts to explore issues facing climate change science. The group has been meeting periodically for a year and a half, with the aim of providing Secretary Kempthorne with a body of information on which to act. The meetings have been closed to the public, and records of its deliberations are not available publicly.

In October, 2008, BLM put out a call for nominations to all State Directors as follows:

EMS TRANSMISSION 10/16/2008
Information Bulletin No. 2009-006

To: All State Directors

From: Assistant Director, Renewable Resources and Planning

Subject: Call for Nominations for Science Committee Members DD: 10/17/2008

The Director has approved the revised Science Strategy (attachment 1) and the charter for the Science Committee (attachment 2). The Science Strategy calls for a formal approach to the application of science to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) programs based on the identification of agency priorities. The Science Committee will play a key role for the BLM in the future, including prioritizing and approving research project proposals for funding. Both documents are currently being printed at the National Operations Center.

The first step in implementing the strategy is the formation of the Science Committee. There are 12 members of the Committee. Three positions on the committee are filled by nominations from the field, and are to represent the three levels of officials of the BLM field organization – Deputy State Directors, District Managers, and Field Managers. These committee members will serve terms of 2 years, with the potential of reappointment for an additional 2 years. The committee is expected to meet or conference twice a year – shortly after the new budget year, and prior to the development of the budget justification. However, additional sessions may be called if circumstances warrant. In order to keep costs down, it is anticipated that most of the meetings will be by conference call.

Recognizing that Committee members already have a great demand on their time, it is our desire to utilize the work of the committee efficiently, and limit the additional demand that participation would require. To do so, the Committee will be assisted by the Division of Resource Services and a standing subcommittee made up of the State Office Science Coordinators, Regional Science Coordinators, and the Joint Fire Science Coordinator at the National Interagency Fire Center. The first task of the Committee will be to participate in the development of the implementation plan for the Science Strategy. With the recognition of the need to better manage our research activities as a part of the M4E initiative, we would like to initiate this effort in the near future. To that end, please submit your nominations for the three field representative positions by the due date cited above.

It is our desire to schedule the first meeting of the Science Committee before the end of the current calendar year. Nominees will be notified of their selection to the Committee, and the scheduling of the first meeting.

Thank you for your assistance in this very important effort. For further information please contact Ron Huntsinger, National Science Coordinator, at (202) 452-5177.

Signed by: Authenticated by:
Edwin L. Roberson Robert M. Williams
Assistant Director Division of IRM Governance,WO-560
Renewable Resources and Planning

2 Attachments
1 – Bureau of Land Management Science Strategy (18 pp)
2 – Science Committee Charter (3 pp)

Public Lands Foundation Position Statement

The Role of Science in BLM Land Management Decisions

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Science is important for supporting land management decisions and helping to outline their consequences. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must state clearly the role of science in resource management decision-making and act accordingly. The use of science within BLM has received critical media attention. Recent media debates about perceived conflicts between scientists, policy makers and political appointees have led the public to question public policy decisions, and have eroded the public trust. The Public Lands Foundation (PLF) believes BLM needs to reinforce its institutional commitment to the application of science to land management decisions. Also, BLM would benefit from increased partnerships with public and private science providers in making informed resource management decisions. The use of the best available science is critical when developing public land policy. A clearly understood and transparent relationship between scientists and policy makers can be highly productive and beneficial to BLM and the public.

BACKGROUND

Land management is complex because the natural and social systems that are affected are complex. Full consideration of relevant scientific information can improve land management decisions. It can expand the number of options considered, and it can increase the probability that intended outcomes will be achieved. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) directs BLM to use science in its decision-making process:

In the development and revision of land use plans, the Secretary shall use a systematic interdisciplinary approach to achieve integrated consideration of physical, biological, economic and other sciences. [Section 201, FLPMA]

Policy development is rightfully a political process. When done well it involves defining the issues; gathering the best scientific knowledge and technology, pertinent facts and opinions about the issues; and then designing a policy to address the issues in a scientifically sound, socially acceptable, economically feasible and legally possible manner. Poor public policy results when scientific knowledge and facts are ignored, suppressed or distorted to further a particular political agenda. Likewise, poor public policy can occur when narrow scientific analysis is used to dictate and justify complex policy choices that involve social and political outcomes. Both misuses of science by policy makers and by scientists (and science providers such as U.S. Geological Survey, Agricultural Research Service, academia, etc.) impact the public’s trust in BLM’s decisions.

BLM, as defined by FLPMA, is not by itself a scientific research organization; rather, BLM is a resource management agency that uses science to inform its land management decisions and policies. Scientific research provides data and knowledge for BLM decisions in land use planning, National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) analyses and policy options.

Fundamentally, quality resource management depends on the interface of science and policy. Within BLM the interface between science and policy occurs primarily at the field management level when land management decisions are made or at the national level when policies are developed. At the present time, the linkage between science and policy-making is often informal and serendipitous.

Most science providers have rules (policies, manuals, guidelines, codes of ethics, etc.) for producing science, getting peer review, and interfacing with policy makers. BLM does not. Thus, BLM must rely on luck, opportunity and its limited institutional capabilities to link science and policy.

BLM does not have a separate research organization. However, it has a wide variety of highly-qualified resource professionals and researchers inside and outside of the agency who provide scientifically based information to inform the policy-making processes.

Whether science is the underpinning or the driver of policy is not always clear. Science should be neutral to policy and both scientists and policy makers need to understand this. Science provides the facts on which good analysis and policy can be based. Scientists and policy makers must work together to make decisions on complex biological, physical and social science issues.

As long as there have been professional resource managers, there have been scientists in the field of resource management. Current media attention indicates that those who promote and oppose current BLM policy decisions both use science to justify their policy positions.

Advancements in policy often lag behind advancements in science and technology. And, conclusive science is often not available within practical timeframes to inform management decisions. Within BLM, the informal linkage of science and policy leads to further diminishment of science influencing policy. Recent expansion of concepts such as ecological restoration, landscape scale analysis, and multiple species habitat conservation plans are just examples. Best Management Practices based on scientific analysis of their consequences and efficacy would be an example of an appropriate and timely linkage of science and policy.

Historical BLM efforts have made a start at increasing its institutional capability and commitment to the use of relevant science, but much still remains. On September 26, 2000, the BLM Director approved BLM’s Science Strategy (available at http://www.blm.gov/nstc) which sets forth an overall approach to science with the following three primary objectives:

1. “to delineate the role of science in BLM decision making and public land management;

2. to establish a clear process for identifying science needs and priorities and to assure that those needs are reflected in the Bureau’s Strategic Plan and budget; and

3. to provide a mechanism for communicating the Bureau’s science needs, sharing its science and results, and highlighting its science opportunities on BLM-managed public lands.”

From the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, BLM used a Science Coordination Committee with representatives from each State and the Headquarters offices to address science needs. This committee played an important role by providing, among other things, internal coordination of calls for research priorities from agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Forest Service, etc. The committee was discontinued for a couple of years (about 1996 to 1998), re-established in 1998, and then disbanded again within the last few years. BLM Science Advisor positions in the Headquarters office also were eliminated. Over time, Science Coordinator positions were created in several directorates to provide some focus on science at the Headquarters level. Their success has been directly proportional to priority given to science by their Assistant Director. And, a commitment by one Assistant Director did not necessarily translate into a commitment by all Assistant Directors.

A Science Advisory Board (a Federal Advisory Committee Act—FACA—committee) was established in about 1996, which consisted of representatives from outside of BLM. Its charter was allowed to lapse within the last few years.

PLF Annual Meeting

At its annual meeting in Golden, Colorado in September 2006, PLF was privileged to have Patricia Nelson Limerick, Professor of History, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, as a luncheon speaker. Professor Limerick spoke about the history of western expansion and the importance of science to decision-making. Later in the meeting, a panel composed of a BLM scientist and a BLM manager spoke on “Science in BLM Decision-making.” Panelists emphasized the need for scientists who understand BLM laws and programs and can explain their findings in terms that managers can understand and use in decision-making. BLM panelists also recognized that NSTC has limited capability to create new science and that its basic role is linking field management to relevant science.

PLF CONCLUSIONS

BLM’s use of science is part of a continuing public dialogue. Patricia Limerick has stated: “In shaping the West’s past, present, and future, no factor is more interesting and consequential than the role of science.” She goes further to explain a number of circumstances that reflect BLM’s role, as mandated by FLPMA in the “new west”. These include such concepts as BLM’s ability to promote partnerships among diverse interests, skill at advancing ecological restoration and rehabilitation of degraded habitats, landscape scale analysis, and skill at adapting to local variation. This management occurs within a context of multiple risk and multiple demands, commonly known as multiple use management.

We concur with her conclusions, and proffer that BLM, as the largest federal land manager with the most diverse land management responsibilities, has a continuing and expanding role in the American west to continue its legacy of promoting, utilizing, and advancing sound science for land management decisions. And, PLF calls upon BLM to increase its institutional capability and commitment to use relevant science in policy development, NEPA analyses and land management decisions.

PLF believes BLM’s Science Strategy clearly articulates a process for effectively using science and technology in BLM land management decision-making. However, PLF also believes BLM management needs to make an even stronger commitment to a) implementing this Strategy than it has in the recent past, b) acquiring the resources needed to assure science is given appropriate consideration in natural resource management decisions, and c) share that commitment with its staff, constituents and the public. BLM needs to walk the talk.

Practicing science in a political environment is always challenging, especially without rules and guidelines. Practicing science in a highly decentralized organization also is difficult. Current trends in diminishing the role of BLM’s science organization and eliminating the technology transfer and linkage between science and policy is troubling. Budget cuts in this arena provide only short term benefits and further reduce BLM’s capability to manage the public lands based on relevant scientific concepts. There are opportunities for BLM to reinforce its capability and commitment to the development and use of sound science. We also believe there are opportunities to further define and refine a linkage between science and policy. The Forest Service, as an example, has clear roles and relationships between researchers and policy makers (See Mills, et al).

There are opportunities to formalize roles and relationships between scientists and policy makers, so that media misinformation and the loss of public trust can be avoided. BLM must protect itself from the manipulation of science by institutionalizing the linkage between science and policy and strengthening the roles for scientists, practitioners and managers in policy development.

BLM’s new Managing for Excellence initiative, among other things, proposes to establish a single National Operations Center (NOC) in Denver, Colorado. This will give the NOC a senior executive to lead and manage the organization. NOC will centralize NSTC, the Lands and Resources Project Office, the National Information Resources Management Center, the National Human Resources Management Center, the National Training Center, and the National Business Center under a single Director who will be responsible for servicing the entire BLM. PLF is on record in support of NOC considering it a means of increasing the visibility and stature of NSTC and the other important offices and their service to the field and Headquarters offices of the Bureau.

BLM should avoid the short term expediency of down-sizing NSTC. Even under current budget constraints, it is important that BLM commit to maintaining the current capability of the Center, and to the role of science and technology in resource management. A centralized control is needed to ensure that BLM’s limited research and development dollars are well-spent for the benefit of BLM as a whole. NTSC is the natural location for this operational work.

The Managing for Excellence initiative should advance and promote the role of NSTC in the sound development of national policy. This should lead to an advanced role for NSTC to develop scientific analyses of land management choices, based upon the best available science from within and outside BLM, with consequences and implications identified for policy makers to consider.

The BLM is well-served by a modest centralized science organization like NSTC, lead by a senior executive serving on the BLM leadership team, operated in cooperation with the entire BLM organization, and supplemented with various scientific experts who are located at other BLM duty stations.

PLF RECOMMENDATIONS

The Public Lands Foundation recommends:

1. Roles for Scientists and Managers: BLM establish clear roles and ethical guidelines for policy makers and scientists (i.e., researchers) which foster independent and objective scientific input into policy formulation. This role statement should be unique to the BLM multiple use mission (as compared to single use management) and focus on the complexity of multiple risk assessment in highly complex habitats and landscapes. The Forest Service’s guidelines for scientists and managers are an excellent template for BLM to consider. (See Mills, et al, 2002).

2. Scientific Analysis of Policy Implications: BLM establish guidelines for disclosing scientific consequences that can guide options and alternatives to be considered in proposed land management decisions.

3. Science-based Infrastructure: BLM increase its commitment to the BLM Science Strategy and create an infrastructure to support science in land management decision-making.

4. Science Advisory Board: BLM re-establish a Science Advisory Board to provide independent counsel to the Director on linking policy proposals to relevant and current science findings, and to discuss the potential consequences of proposed new policy based on scientific interpolations.

5. Linking Science and Resource Management: BLM establish a National Operations Center in Denver, as provided for in its Managing for Excellence initiative, to strengthen the linkage of science and resource management decision-making and to provide increased visibility and stature to NSTC and other operational offices.

Bibliography:

“Making the Most of Science in the American West: An Experiment,” Patricia Limerick and Claudia Puska, Report #5, from the Center of the American West, University of Colorado, 2003.

Available at www.centerwest.org

“Achieving Science-Based National Forest Management Decisions While Maintaining the Capability of the Research and Development Program,” Thomas J. Mills, Richard V. Smythe, and Hilda Diaz-Soltero, Pacific Northwest Research Station, April 2002, 20 pages.

“Bureau of Land Management Science Strategy,” BLM/RS/PL-00/001+1700, September 26,2000, 19 pages. Available at www.blm.gov/nstc.

Robert Abbey named to BLM director post in Dept. of Interior

A former aide to Clinton’s Secretary of Interior, Bruce Babbitt, has been named to head the Bureau of Land Management. Bob Abbey was head of the BLM in Nevada. Mike Pool had been named as interim national director of BLM, but once confirmed, Abbey will replace Pool as the permanent director. Abbey has been involved in controversies, from the Cave Mummy to ranching to Mustang removal and adoption. He’s a seasoned veteran of land management issues. Readers, please feel free to share your views, positive or negative, on this appointment.

Obama names Nevadan Bob Abbey to head BLM

By Agelio Networks
contact@agelio.net

US President Barack Obama has chosen Bob Abbey as his pick to head up the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which handles oversight of oil and gas development on federal lands onshore.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the nomination, calling Abbey a “consummate, professional natural-resource manager.”

Abbey has more than 32 years in state and federal public service, including eight years at the helm of the Nevada state BLM office until his retirement in 2005.

Abbey has supported sharing access on BLM lands, especially when it comes to mining and oil and gas development, according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune.

In 2007 testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources, he said he favoured treating public lands as more than just commodity-production sites.

“I am a firm believer in BLM’s multiple-use mandate,” he testified, “and I believe that appropriate public lands, not all public lands, should continue to be accessible for mineral extraction.”

Abbey’s nomination was reportedly pushed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who is also from Nevada.

Abbey still must pass a Senate confirmation vote.

BLM Testimony of Elaine Downing: “Employees are fearful of retaliation”

This is the public testimony of Elaine Downing, whose union represents over 600 employees of the US Bureau of Land Management in California. Mike Pool, the director of the BLM in California, has recently been named acting director of the national office of the BLM in Washington, DC. Although this is quite long, the testimony is very informative about the low morale at BLM and why it exists. Ms. Downing does not mention the suicide of Marlene Braun or the problem of bullying in the workplace per se, but the conditions she describes make it understandable how those things happened under Mr. Pool’s watch. What Downing does not mention are the managers at the level below field office supervisor, which is where Marlene Braun was, if I understand her rank correctly. She was management, but had to report to the field office supervisor, Ron Huntsinger. Such people are not represented by the union, but they can be subject to bullying. Being in management doesn’t prevent that.

Testimony of Elaine Downing, Vice President
National Federation of Federal Employees, Local 2152,
California Bureau of Land Management
Before the House Committee on Natural Resources
Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands
Regarding Restoring the Federal Public Lands Workforce
March 19, 2009

Thank you, Chairman Grijalva and distinguished Committee members, for the opportunity to
submit the following testimony.
My name is Elaine Downing. I serve as the Vice President of the National Federation of Federal
Employees (NFFE), Local 2152, representing approximately 600 Bureau of Land Management
employees throughout the state of California. Additionally, I keep in close contact with
numerous employees from other BLM offices, both represented by NFFE and other unions.
Overall, employee morale within BLM is relatively low, as evidenced in the recent government-
wide employee satisfaction survey. I believe the results of the employee satisfaction survey
actually misrepresent the true level of employee morale. In my estimation, morale is lower than
the survey indicates, because many employees are fearful of retaliation if they answer the survey
honestly. Many rank and file employees do not believe that the survey is actually anonymous,
regardless of the agency’s assurances, and many chose not to even respond to the survey.
It is difficult to point to one or two solitary reasons for low morale, as there are a multitude of
reasons for low morale within the Bureau. What I hope to do is to explain some of the more
often heard complaints that the union hears and witnesses in representing employees, or has
experienced firsthand. Our issues revolve around ethics, labor relations, workforce planning,
resource protection, performance appraisals and awards, and the balance between home- and
work-life. In my testimony, I have also included recommendations for improvements regarding
some of these concerns.

Workforce Planning
There is much concern among rank and file employees at BLM that upper level management
officials do not adequately manage how the work within the department is done. With critical
vacancies in the field for long periods of time, new software implementations that are impacting
all programs, unprecedented wildfire seasons in California, national emergencies like Hurricane
Katrina, and alternative energy development mandates, employees at BLM are constantly trying
to handle too many top priorities at once.

In my opinion, far too high of a percentage of agency resources are allocated toward supporting
higher level managers residing mostly in district and state offices, while the field offices, where
the majority of the agency’s mission is actually accomplished, get too small of a percentage.
Many field offices are severely understaffed and overworked. There is also concern that
management officials build hierarchies to protect their position and grade at the state and district
levels, while leaving protracted vacancies in critical positions at the field level. Having too
many managers and not enough rank and file employees to do the work has several undesirable
consequences; it is a waste of much-needed resources, it causes understaffing of critical
positions, it causes rank and file employees to be overworked, it has a tendency to make rank and
file employees feel micromanaged and pulled in different directions, and it ultimately hurts the
ability of the agency to carry out its mission.
Some people, particularly high level management officials, will point to budget shortfalls as a
primary cause of low employee morale. It is true that most employees are disheartened by
inadequate funding within their programs. However, we hear more complaints about the lack of
integrity in how and which vacancies are filled than complaints of a shortfall of appropriated
funds.
Here is an example of the kind of action that has frustrated BLM workers: Management will
allow for the advertising of a realty specialist position in an office where there is already one or
two, while in the same period, the agency will leave a critical realty specialist job in a field office
vacant for months, even though that field office does not have a single realty specialist on staff.
Failing to fill this critical vacancy tied the hands of the agency so that it could not carry out a key
function. That field office was unable to process alternative energy development applications for
a period of several months. In this critical time of alternative energy development, this should
not have been allowed to occur. We see lots of cases where BLM inappropriately fills non-
critical vacancies ahead of critical ones in this way. It hurts the mission and it frustrates workers.
Additionally, upper level management seems to lack an ability to manage workload. Rank and
file employees at all levels, but particularly in field offices, are bombarded by data requests and
work assignments from many sources including: Washington office, state office, district office,
other field offices, etc.

In my experience, management places very little if any emphasis on
BLM employees following a chain of command when requesting work to get done. There is also
little to no guidance for employees to make decisions on how to prioritize their work. In
addition, there is a considerable volume of work that comes through the door that BLM
employees are forced to perform, but the time it takes employees to handle these duties is often
overlooked by management. BLM employees often feel they are getting pulled in too many
directions at once, and they are unsure of how to prioritize their assignments. This common
problem has hurt morale at BLM.

Law Enforcement Officers
For law enforcement Rangers at the California BLM, morale is particularly low. These Rangers
are responsible for protecting resources and public safety across 15.2 million acres in California
and 1.6 million acres in northwestern Nevada. The Law Enforcement Ranger program started in
the California Desert District with the passage of the Federal Land Policy Management Act
(FLPMA) of 1976, which specifically mandated the focus toward protection of natural resources
within the California Desert Conservation Area. There is strong pride in California for that
reason.
Prior to 9/11, the ranger corps of BLM was dedicated to resource protection as prescribed under
FLPMA. After 9/11, and with the formation of Homeland Security, several high level BLM law
enforcement officials were hired into the Bureau from outside the agency.
Generally speaking, these new managers were less oriented toward natural resources and more
focused on homeland security. These new law enforcement managers also brought a stricter,
more militaristic style of management to the Ranger force. This shift in focus has caused a lot of
distress for many BLM law enforcement rangers and field office managers. Confusion as to who
these law enforcement officers answer to and who can delegate the work to them, is beginning to
cause friction within the offices, and it is affecting morale for all. Recent funding earmarked for
the California Desert Ranger program has not found its way to California, and there is a growing
concern that it was sent elsewhere.
A common concern we have heard from BLM law enforcement Rangers is that upper level
management does not value law enforcement officers with natural resource backgrounds. Many
law enforcement Rangers have speculated that they were passed up for promotion because
management was promoting from outside the agency for higher level positions. In addition, our
union has had to defend several Rangers against what I would consider to be questionable
disciplinary actions. These suspect disciplinary measures have had a strong tendency to be taken
against Rangers with natural resource orientations, hired before the creation of DHS. Regardless
of whether there is any validity to the concern some law enforcement Rangers have that they are
being treated unfairly, there can be little doubt that morale has fallen due to the perception that
they are not being given equal treatment.

Consolidation of Functions
There are two specific groups of employees at BLM that have recently been targeted for
consolidation, the Information Technology (IT) and Human Resources (HR) personnel. Even
though we as a union do not represent the HR staff (BLM considers them “confidential
employees,” and therefore outside the bargaining unit), they are our coworkers and are a critical
part of our mission. I will use this venue to share some of their major concerns.
In 2005, BLM’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT) started discussing a new initiative called
“Managing for Excellence.” This initiative was supposedly developed with the aim of improving
effectiveness and cost efficiency within BLM. Our union believes there were areas that needed
to be improved, but the agency has not demonstrated that the changes they have implemented,
nor the changes they are planning for in the future, have saved or will save any funds or improve
efficiency.
In fact, one of the primary decisions the team made—to put the three tier system (as opposed to
the two tier system) back in place—will most likely hurt efficiency within BLM. The three tier
system adds another layer of bureaucratic supervision to the field offices, which are actually
accomplishing the work right now, and could accomplish much more if they had adequate
staffing.
According to the ELT’s frequently asked questions document about the restructuring, the
rationale for moving to a three tier system read as follows “We’ve learned that being closer to
the ground with a three-tiered organization allows us to provide better service to the public and
better quality control. It also gives us the opportunity to reduce duplication and overhead
services.”
I respectfully disagree with this conclusion, and have seen no evidence to substantiate it. Adding
a third tier does not accomplish what they have claimed it does. Having worked in an office that
continued to have a district office (three tiers), while others went to two tiers, I have found that
the district does not bring consistency to the field offices. Rather, it adds a layer of management
that is costly and unnecessary. It also seems to justify additional grades to those employees who
often have the same knowledge, skills, abilities, and responsibilities as our field office staffers. I
do not believe that adding this layer of management eliminated any meaningful duplication of
effort or overhead. The three tier system has actually created more overhead and duplication of
effort.
Another one of the Managing for Excellence decisions was to transfer the functions of IT and
HR to a central location in Denver, Colorado. This decision alone is responsible for a drastic
decrease in employee morale. Not only has it impacted the IT and HR employees, but it has
affected all of the employees throughout the BLM.
Our most experienced IT and HR employees have begun looking for jobs elsewhere in their
same communities. Those who are mobile have started looking for jobs outside of BLM.
Promises of assistance regarding career counseling have yet to be fulfilled. Shortages in HR
have been very difficult to overcome, creating a backlog of work, especially during fire season.
In my estimation, it is taking several months longer on average to fill vacancies. Most
employees at or near retirement age feel as though they are being forced into retirement, while
others are taking voluntary downgrades, sometimes 3 or 4 grades below their current level, in
order to end the uncertainty of their future.
The initiative came with promises of union involvement, but we have only been engaged in an ad
hoc fashion. A Washington Office management official said it is the responsibility of the state
offices to negotiate with their local unions. However, local labor relations employees in the
state office cannot engage in meaningful discussions on topics when they do not know what is
going on themselves and they have not been included in the initiative planning. In fact, there has
not been as much as a conference call to collaborate and discuss the impacts of these changes on
BLM employees. A labor-management partnership council would be extremely helpful in
addressing employees concerns with regard to this reorganization.
Although, I have stated our union would like to bargain the impact and implementation of this
reorganization, I would like to make clear that we are adamantly opposed to this reorganization.
We are confident that this change will hurt BLM’s ability to perform HR and IT functions. This
initiative is very similar to the changes the U.S. Forest Service made a few years ago to
centralize IT and HR functions to Albuquerque, New Mexico. By many accounts, Forest
Service’s reorganization has been a disaster, yet BLM is intent on going down that same road. A
reorganization of the IT and HR functions at BLM will be damaging to the agency and promises
to be a tremendous waste of tax-payers’ dollars. BLM is going to lose immeasurable
institutional knowledge and talent as a result of this reorganization.
In addition to the problems I have already discussed, the process that has been developed using
USAjobs.gov has become a tremendous source of frustration for supervisors and HR specialists,
as well as applicants who want to work for the Bureau. Most non-federal applicants, as well as
current BLM employees, have found this system to be overly burdensome and give up after
being aggravated by the software system. In a recent job application for a realty specialist, there
were over 80 questions that had to be answered in addition to submitting a comprehensive
resume within the structure of this system. This is hurting the agency’s ability to recruit the
talent it needs to carry out its mission.

Employee Performance Appraisal Plans and Awards
In 2005, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) required BLM to switch back to a five
level performance appraisal system from a pass/fail system. The handbook is clear and concise,
describing a comprehensive system to develop critical elements, how to measure or quantify the
level of performance, and the proper procedures for rating employees. However, implementation
of this system has been very problematic.
Our union has reviewed a myriad of performance appraisals throughout the state of California.
When reviewing these appraisals we have discovered that typically everything that is listed in the
position description is listed in either one or two critical elements, while the quantifiable
measurements are ambiguous and subjective. Favored employees of course, get glowing reviews
and non-favored employees are saddled with having to defend themselves against vague,
subjective, and indefensible measurements. BLM needs to do a better job of creating appraisals
that accurately describe the critical elements and performance standards of employees’ duties.
Until these performance appraisals are done properly, BLM employees will continue to
experience great frustration in the performance appraisal process and eventually become
disengaged.
The system would work well if the agency would implement a structure for annual oversight and
make a commitment to adequately train all BLM employees. I believe this change would lead to
tremendous improvements in morale, performance and accountability. All too often, we find
government agencies are blaming the inadequacies of a system on the structure of the system,
when the real problem is the lack of training, oversight, and accountability.
There is no oversight on appraisals within each state or within the agency. There is no
consistency from employee to employee, office to office, or state to state, in both how they are
written and how employees are rated. I recently had the opportunity to discuss this issue with a
realty specialist from New Mexico BLM. This realty specialist had only one critical element on
which to be rated, and that was “safety.” It stands to reason that a GS-11 realty specialist would
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have at least one critical element having to do with something other than safety. This example
shows that BLM is not following OPM guidance in determining critical elements.
Likewise, the awards system at BLM is highly flawed. There is little attempt by BLM to
conduct oversight to ensure consistency. Management officials in the state offices do not review
performance appraisals and ratings for quality or consistency and awards may or may not be tied
to them. Some offices give token awards to everyone. The only person that we know of that
reviews the appraisals and awards in the state of California office is a human resource specialist
whose only objective is to make sure the documents were received. There needs to be more
fairness and accountability in the distribution of awards and it should have a nexus to
performance.
Alternative Pay Systems
We have been closely monitoring so-called pay-for-performance systems that have been
developed and implemented at other agencies. We think it would be a very bad idea for the
Department of Interior to attempt a move to a subjective pay system like ones that have been
developed at the Department of Defense and elsewhere. These alternative pay systems have had
a poor record of success in the federal sector, and in my opinion, the BLM lacks many of the
prerequisites for a fair, transparent, and effective merit pay system. The only way a pay-for-
performance system would work in the federal sector is if there was a fair, objective, and
consistent appraisal system; real accountability demanded from managers; a true 360-degree
performance review of each and every employee, including top management officials; and a
significant increase in funding to support the pay system. All of these requirements are a tall
order to achieve in BLM. Increased funding is particularly difficult with constant pressure to
contain the expense of government services.
New Technology
The effects of the newly implemented software for government travel (GovTrip) and the new
Financial Business Management System (FBMS) system, has been problematic. BLM is unable
to pull reports, pay vendors, reconcile accounts, transfer funds, or process travel authorizations
and vouchers in a timely manner. Travel vouchers that once took approximately one hour, now
take several hours or even days, depending on the availability of the software system. The
software is not user friendly and we have heard many complaints from users at all levels,
including management officials. This is affecting all BLM employees across the agency.
Practically everyone at BLM has been negatively affected by the transition to these software
programs. The acronyms used in the new FBMS are not user friendly and very little guidance
and training has been provided. Employees have been forced to learn the software by soliciting
help from someone else who has had training. It is inconvenient for an office to rely on just one
person for this kind of expertise, which is often the case. Any one person could be out of the
office for an extended period of time. BLM employees are in need of more training on the new
software. This is not just a matter of employees not liking change. It has been extremely
aggravating to all employees because they are unable to perform their duties.

Labor Relations
Under the previous administration, California BLM management became almost completely
unresponsive to union concerns. Under President Bush, a lot of the Clinton era Federal Labor
Relations Authority (FLRA) guidance used to facilitate labor-management relations was
disregarded, and it caused a lot of confusion about how to resolve labor-management disputes
and how to handle unfair labor practices (ULPs). Not only was this action antagonistic toward
labor unions, I believe the confusion caused by this move cost taxpayers millions of dollars in
lost time and efficiency, as labor and management struggled to establish new terms for their
relationship. This is particularly true within BLM where labor-management relations became
extremely difficult and burdensome.
Management officials do not come to the table to negotiate collective bargaining agreements in
California BLM. They delegate the task to labor relations specialists. They do this because the
State Director and the Associate State Director do not seem to care about employees’ concerns
relating to working conditions and morale. Our current contract calls for quarterly meetings
between the union and our State Director or his Associate to discuss problems. During the last
eight years we have yet to meet with the State Director or his Associate.
Our union is hopeful that Congress and the new Administration will re-establish basic labor-
management relations at BLM. We believe that a labor-management partnership council, like
the one in place at the Forest Service, would be an effective way of bringing employee concerns
to the attention of management and addressing them.
Some agencies have elected to retain their labor-management partnerships when both labor and
management found it to be an effective avenue to address issues impacting labor relations. In
contrast, BLM was very quick to terminate their state and national partnership councils when the
opportunity arose. Employees within BLM have seen the lack of follow up on numerous issues
that have been brought to the attention of management. There is serious disconnect between
management and the employees of BLM that we would like to see resolved by reestablishing
partnership councils.

Disparate Treatment between Managers and Rank and File Employees
Our union has witnessed disparate treatment between managers and rank and file in many
different areas. This disparity exists in the awards program, performance appraisals, training,
accountability, discipline, and in the addressing of unethical behavior.
For example, a management official who was caught with inappropriate material on a BLM-
issued computer was disciplined with a suspension, while rank and file employees would be, and
have been, fired for virtually identical offenses. This unfairness has caused a lot of frustration
among BLM employees.
Management officials and management-favored employees have often been allowed to violate
agency policy regarding such things as: internet use and security; use of government vehicles;
use of government equipment for personal use; improper reimbursement during official travel for
personal business; agency policy on pets; and fiscal accountability. Morale would be better at
BLM if the same rules were applied to and enforced on everyone.
Management team meetings during lean times of budget are often held at resort locations, which
are not well received by employees who have been told there is not enough money for their
project, training, awards, office, field supplies, or to implement safety committees as per our
collective bargaining agreement and the law. Disparate treatment between management and rank
and file workers, at many different levels, is hurting morale at BLM.

Whistleblower Protection

Our union believes that current whistle blower protections, as they have been enforced by the
Office of Special Counsel, are inadequate to protect federal workers. Whether it is through
stricter enforcement of existing whistleblower protections, or through legislation, we strongly
support strengthening these key protections, which are such a critical element of government
accountability. BLM employees are in desperate need of a Special Counsel that will protect
employees who open themselves up to reprisal when coming forward with information on waste,
frauds, and abuse. Until a better system is put in place to ensure accountability and protection
from retaliation and adverse actions against whistleblowers, BLM workers will be reluctant to
come forward. Inadequate whistleblower protection at BLM has hurt morale within the
department.

Going Forward With Optimism

Going forward, I and many other employees at BLM have a strong sense of optimism that our
work environment will begin to see marked improvement. We strongly support the efforts of
President Obama and Secretary Salazar to bring integrity and accountability back into the
Department of Interior workforce. The agency will be well served by reevaluating the ethics
regulations and removing politics and ideology from Bureau decision making. There are
hundreds of talented and dedicated employees working throughout BLM who love their job and
love their country. To most of us, working for the American people at an agency that allows us
manage our country’s natural resources, is very rewarding. I consider it a dream come true. We
are surrounded by beautiful scenery and are charged with its protection. It is an honor of mine to
come to work each day.

Conclusion

In closing, I would like to thank you again for this opportunity to provide testimony. Employees
at BLM have had a lot to say about morale but have lacked the venue to say it. It is a great relief
to finally voice some of these concerns before such a distinguished panel. We commend this
Subcommittee for asking BLM employees for their concerns and evaluation of employee morale
at the department. I will be happy to respond to any questions you may have. I can be reached at
Elaine_Downing@ca.blm.gov.

Politics as Usual: A Yes-Man Advanced to Head BLM

Mike Pool, the BLM California Director who rejected Marlene Braun’s appeal over her suspension for sending an email to people with whom she worked has now been promoted. Pool, who had approved the Resource Management Plan Braun submitted before her field office Ron Huntsinger arrived quickly changed his tune and began doing what the Bush Administration wanted: helping to get rid of Marlene Braun.

It is more important than ever to get the full Dept. of Interior OIG report released.
News Release

For Release: February 18, 2009
Contact: John Dearing/Jan Bedrosian, 916-978-4610, email: jdearing@ca.blm.gov;
CA-SO-09-03
BLM Taps Californian Mike Pool as Acting National Director

Mike Pool, California state director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), has been tapped to serve as the agency’s acting national director in Washington D.C., effective March 1.

Pool, 55, a career veteran, has served more than 34 years with BLM, starting at the field office level and working his way up through a variety of assignments in Alaska, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington D.C., and the Department of the Interior.

He has been California state director since 2000, overseeing 15.1 million acres of public lands in California and another 1.5 million in northwestern Nevada. In the new acting position, he will oversee 256 million surface acres – more than any other federal agency. Most of this public land is located in 12 western states, including Alaska.

He replaces current BLM Acting Director Ron Wenker, who will return to his current position as BLM’s Nevada state director. Pool will remain in the new assignment pending selection of a permanent director by new Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. In California, Pool’s Associate State Director Jim Abbott will serve as acting California state director.

“I’m honored by the new assignment and look forward to assisting the new administration care for the public lands under BLM’s jurisdiction,” he said. The 55-year-old Pool, an Arizona native raised in New Mexico, holds a B.S. in wildlife science from New Mexico State University.

RELATED: “Mike Pool, State Director”(BLM-California)
Biography of BLM-California’s state director and new acting national director.
http://www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/ca/pdf/pdfs/caso_pdfs.Par.44155.File.dat/PoolBio.pdf

Carrizo Plain National Monument has new Draft RMP 5 years too late

This press release is just out from BLM. In February, 2004, then manager of the CPNM had just gotten approval for a draft RMP from the state offices in California. In March, Ron Huntsinger came in to destroy that plan. He wound up destroying it and the monument manager, Marlene Braun, who killed herself on May 2, 2005.

U.S. Department of the Interior

Bureau of Land Management

News Release For Immediate Release: Jan. 21, 2009 CA-CC-09-24

Contact: David Christy (916) 985-4474

BLM Releases Draft Plan for Carrizo Plain National Monument The Bureau of Land Management has released for public review and comment a Draft Resource Management Plan/Draft Environmental Impact Statement for about 206,000 acres of public lands in the Carrizo Plain National Monument administered by the agency’s Bakersfield Field Office.

The draft RMP provides management guidance for public lands in San Luis Obispo and Kern counties. BLM will conduct three meetings in Central California to gather comments on the draft plan and EIS. “The plan contains a range of management alternatives developed in cooperation with our Managing Partners – The Nature Conservancy and the California Department of Fish and Game – the Monument Advisory Committee and the public,” said Johna Hurl, monument manager.

The primary issues addressed include: recreation; protection of sensitive natural and cultural resources; livestock grazing; guidance for energy and mineral development; motorized vehicle route designation.

To ensure that they will be considered, BLM must receive written comments on the Draft RMP/EIS by April 23. You may submit comments by any of the following methods:

o Email: cacarrizormp@ca.blm.gov o Fax: 661-301-6143

o Mail: CPNM RMP, Bureau of Land Management, 3801 Pegasus Drive, Bakersfield CA

o At a public meeting

Public meetings will be held: * Feb. 24 at the BLM Bakersfield Field Office, 3801 Pegasus Drive. The office is approximately one mile east of Highway 99 off the Porterville/Sequoia exit turn-off on Highway 65. The meeting will begin at 5 p.m. and finish at 7 p.m. *

Feb. 25 at the San Luis Obispo Library, 1341 Nipomo St. The library is less than one mile east of Highway 101 off the Osos exit. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. and finish at 8 p.m. * March 7 at the Carrisa Plains School on Hwy 58. The school is located approximately one mile west of Soda Lake road on Hwy 58. The meeting will begin at 10 a.m. and finish at noon.

Individuals who plan to attend and need special assistance such as sign language interpretation or other reasonable accommodations should contact Carrizo RMP Line (661) 391-6034. You may also call that number for additional information on the RMP. Copies of the document have been mailed to requesters. Additionally, printed or compact disc copies can be obtained by contacting the Carrizo RMP line.

The documents are also posted on the Internet at http://www.blm.gov/ca/bakersfield/carrizo/2009DraftRMP

For further information, call the Carrizo RMP Line (661) 391-6034