Combs visits Wyoming to discuss regional pilot program
Cheyenne – Earlier this year, when the Department of the Interior (DOI) proposed a department-wide reorganization effort, western states looked on the effort with trepidation, fearing the addition of new regions and regional coordinators would add another layer of bureaucracy.
Today, DOI’s nine agencies, include the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), share 61 regions across the country. The reorganization effort, led by DOI Senior Policy Advisor Susan Combs, would consolidate those regions into 13 areas defined by state lines.
Within each region, a coordinator would be assigned to oversee and coordinate work among DOI agencies, with the goal of streamlining processes and improving efficiency.
“When we first heard about this effort, there was concern it would just create another layer of bureaucracy,” explained Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Director Jim Magagna. “Instead of bringing decisions closer to the people, we were concerned it would add distance between people on the ground and decisions from DOI.”
He noted, however, that after Combs visited Wyoming to meet with the Natural Resource Coalition, as well as members of the conservation community and Wyoming County Commissioners, many concerns from the group were alleviated.
Magagna explained, “One of the purposes of reorganization is to have a small team of people who would coordinate activities between DOI agencies and among more than just one state.”
Combs laid out several hypothetical situations to detail the point, explaining that if BLM and FWS were working on a project where both agencies were required to provide permits, the small team would help ensure efforts were not duplicated and projects aren’t delayed.
“In the event the agencies weren’t working together well, the office would be a place where affected parties could ask a regional coordinator to step in,” Magagna said. “That person’s role would be to ensure coordination across state and regional boundaries, which makes a lot of sense.”
In essence, Wyoming’s BLM office would continue to make the same decisions they make today, but if there was overlap with other agencies, a regional coordinator could help facilitate those efforts.
A regional coordinator or coordination team serves to create both internal and external efficiencies.
“Internally,” explained Magagna, “this office would create some cost efficiencies.”
He said, for example, a region may be able to operate with one Human Resources director or one person in charge of procurement, both of which would alleviate costs and create greater efficiency.
“The external component is working with multiple agencies across boundaries to make processes more efficient,” he said.
As another example, if a project requires permitting from three agencies, today, each agency may conduct its own analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). If a project requires permits from three agencies that take six months each to complete their NEPA analysis, a project may take 18 months or longer.
However, under a coordinated system, the agencies may be able to conduct a single analysis incorporating all concerns and factors from each agency.
“There are ways to increase efficiency and expedite action, particularly on the permitting side, by reducing duplication of efforts,” Magagna said.
He continued, “It’s also important to note, however, the U.S. Forest Service would not be a part of this effort because they are not in DOI.”
U.S. Forest Service is housed in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which adds a layer of complexity to the process.
“In the future, coordination with agencies outside DOI may be possible, but that’s a project that will be considered in the future,” Magagna added.
While regions were originally drawn based on ecosystems and watershed, Magagna noted concerns from governors across the country led to a second regional split more closely reflecting state lines.
Wyoming lies in the Upper Colorado Basin region with Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
“A pilot project using a regional coordinator has been in place in Alaska, but that’s different because it only involves one state,” Magagna said. “DOI is considering a second pilot in the four-state Upper Colorado Basin Region. Part of the reason it fits well for this region is because all state have particularly high levels of energy development and grazing, so we see some commonality.”
Magagna also mentioned that DOI looks for continued input on the pilot program, and Combs has indicated she will continue to look towards Wyoming’s agriculture, conservation and energy industries, as well as coordination with state and local governments, to implement and refine the pilot project.
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.