Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has announced the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) plan to reorganize its bureaus into 12 “unified regions.” The proposed management re-design establishes new regional divisions based on the boundaries of states and watersheds, including a California-Great Basin Region, a Lower Colorado Basin Region, an Upper Colorado Basin Region, and Mississippi Basin Region, among others.

The proposal has been under development for several months and was shared in a memo with DOI employees and Senior Executive Service (SES) personnel on August 29, 2018, according to departmental sources. “Our new Unified Regions will allow important decisions to be made nearer to where our stakeholders and intergovernmental partners live and work, and will make joint problem-solving and improved coordination between our Bureaus and other Federal, State, and local agencies easier,” stated Secretary Zinke.

The 12 unified regions will replace the 49 individual Interior Bureau regional boundaries. Secretary Zinke said that the reorganization will “reduce bureaucratic redundancy, will improve communication between our experts in the field and leaders in Washington, D.C., and will allow us to share our knowledge and resources more effectively.”

Under the plan, the national headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will be moved to a city in the western United States, where the vast majority of public lands managed by the agency are located. The location for the new headquarters has not yet been determined. Individual BLM state offices will continue to function under the new unified regions. Secretary Zinke has indicated that there will be no office or personnel relocations or changes to reporting structure during the initial stages of the implementation of the new plan.

Each new region will be managed under a “Regional Leadership Team”, an idea outlined by Susan Combs, acting Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget for DOI, at a roundtable discussion organized by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT). Combs described Alaska as a model for operations under the reorganization plan. “We started with a pilot in Alaska, because it’s one state that has all the bureaus, it already has a legislative framework that requires federal and state agencies to work together,” said Combs. “So, they are working away on inter-bureau collaboration.”

The regional leadership teams will be comprised of SES members from each bureau in each unified region, with an SES member from outside being appointed in cases where there are no SES members for every bureau. In the first month, a regional facilitator will be selected from each team to guide the team across six areas, including collaborative conservation, recreation, permitting, acquisition, human resource management, and information technology management. The regional facilitators along with their leadership teams will identify key personnel for the six areas of focus, determine the “as is” and “future state” operations for their respective unified regions, and also develop an options paper to be used in the selection and rotation process for the Interior Regional Director.

The plan applies to all Interior agencies, except the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Office of the Special Trustee for American Indians, and the Bureau of Indian Education. Whether these agencies are eventually aligned with the new regional boundaries will be determined after tribal consultation.