Environment | National | Politics

Republican Jeb Bush wants to move DOI headquarters out West

Would Indian Country be better served by moving the headquarters of the Department of the Interior out West? Image from Jeb Bush

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush wants the Interior Department out of Washington, D.C.

As part of his Western Land and Resource Management plan, the former governor of Florida said he would relocate the headquarters of the agency that oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians. Colorado, Utah or Nevada were mentioned as potential locations out West.

"People in the West feel the impact of federal decision-making more acutely than those in the rest of the nation," Bush said on his website. "Of the 635 million acres owned and managed by the federal government, 582 million acres — 90 percent — are in the West, including Alaska."

The overwhelming majority of BIA and OST employees are already in the West, at locations in and near Indian Country. Top officials -- including the Secretary of the Interior, the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs and the Special Trustee for American Indians -- are based in the nation's capitol so they presumably would move to the new headquarters if Bush gets his way.

National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby, at podium, with Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn at NCAI's annual convention in San Diego, California, on October 19, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com

But with tribes taking control of BIA programs through self-determination contracts and self-governance compacts, moving the headquarters might not carry much of an impact. Tribes are creating more jobs in their communities and the agency's workforce has been shrinking as a result.

"BIA is not really where the jobs are anymore," Assistant Secretary Kevin Washburn said on Monday at the National Congress of American Indians annual convention in San Diego, California. "It's in tribal self-determination."

The BIA currently has about 8,000 employees. That's down from about 15,000 during the Clinton area, Washburn pointed out.

"That's a big victory, frankly," Washburn said, referring to the move toward self-determination.

Regarding other programs at DOI, Bush said he would treat tribes and states as equal partners when it comes to land management decisions. If elected president, he plans to call a meeting of tribal leaders and state governors to help develop new policies.

"Western communities need an equal partner in the federal government," Bush said. "Washington, DC’s decisions from afar are too often based on the baseline assumption that states and tribes care less about the environment than federal officials. That is false."

Bush also said tribes and states should play greater roles in the establishment of national monuments. Tribes are calling for new monuments at Bears Ears in Utah and the Grand Canyon in Arizona in order to protect sacred and cultural sites but the Republican candidate didn't make specific suggestions about a new process.

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Arizona tribes back creation of new monument at Grand Canyon (10/14)
Republican Jeb Bush wants to repeal Indian health care law (10/14)
Jim Enote: Bears Ears worthy of status as national monument (10/14)
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