The Bureau of Land Management’s planned relocation took another significant step forward, as the bureau on Tuesday offered official reassignment notices to its employees.
A BLM spokeswoman said 159 bureau employees received “management-directed geographic reassignment” letters.
Employees who received reassignment notices have 30 days to accept the BLM relocation. Those who choose to relocate will have 90 additional days to report to their new duty location, a BLM spokeswoman said.
Perhaps most notably, Interior has approved relocation incentives, worth 25% of an employee’s basic pay at his or her new duty station, for the BLM employees who accept their reassignments, the bureau spokeswoman said.
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“We are working hard to make sure every affected employee has information on all options available,” the bureau said. “A transition support team composed of specialists from human resources, employee relations, the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and other sources is helping individual employees with support and information, as well as career counseling, résumé-writing and interviewing workshops and identification of vacancies for interested and qualified employees within the BLM nationwide and within the Department of Interior in the D.C. area.”
Interior had previously told Congress it had frozen hiring across the department to keep other positions open for employees who may opt out of the BLM relocation.
Government Executive first reported the news of BLM’s relocation notices.
BLM told Federal News Network last week it had received approval from the Office of Personnel Management to offer buyouts to Washington-based employees who aren’t interested in relocating.
The agency will notify employees eligible for Voluntary Early Retirement Authority or Voluntary Separation Incentive Payments in writing in the “coming weeks,” a BLM spokeswoman said.
BLM human resources and Interior’s Office of Human Capital will host informational sessions for employees on VERA/VSIP this week and the next, the bureau said.
Interior has said it planned to move 27 Washington-based positions to Grand Junction, Colorado, which will serve as BLM’s new headquarters moving forward.
More than 200 others were supposed to move to other western states, according to the projections the department gave in July when it first detailed its relocation plans.
Though the BLM spokeswoman couldn’t explain why fewer employees appear to have received relocation notices than the bureau’s initial projections for the move, she said some positions were vacant. Interior has already worked with employees to find new jobs, the spokeswoman said.
Positions that handle BLM’s budget, congressional and regulatory affairs, and Freedom of Information Act compliance, about 61 people in total, are expected to stay in Washington.
The BLM relocation is part of Interior’s broader efforts to reorganize and realign management functions within the department. Interior last summer announced plans to establish 12 unified regions, led by area facilitators, across all of its bureaus.
BLM hasn’t projected how many current employees it expects it might lose due to the bureau’s relocation west. William Perry Pendley, the bureau’s deputy director for policy and programs, told Congress in September it was his desire, and the secretary’s, “that we not lose a single employee.”
The Agriculture Department, which is still moving employees from the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to a new site in Kansas City, has lost more than half of its original workforce since the relocation.
Pay for relocating employees at their new duty stations will likely change due to differing locality rates. Locality pay in the Washington area is higher than most other locality pay areas, and it’s certainly more than the “rest of U.S.,” where employees who move to Grand Junction will reside.
A GS-10, step 5 in the Washington, D.C. makes $71,774 in 2019, compared to a $64,198 annual salary in the “rest of U.S.,” according to OPM’s most recent salary tables. Employees who relocate to the Denver-Aurora, Colorado, locality pay area may have better luck.