OGDEN — A top Interior official toured Ogden Tuesday, marveling at the painted horse statues, the multiple flower boxes, the street side pianos and the community pride.
"It's a really pretty town," said Susan Combs, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s assistant secretary for policy, management and budget, over a lunch of pizza at Roosters.
"The distinct impression I got this morning is this is a community that works well together," she said.
Combs had a specific list of amenities she wanted to see in Ogden as she sized up the city as a potential candidate for the relocation of the Bureau of Land Management headquarters from Washington, D.C.
She wanted to see neighborhood parks, the airport, residential housing, Weber State University and local health care services.
"There's visible evidence of pride and civic engagement," she said. "I've seen towns completely change from a few planter boxes."
Combs was in Utah to tour Ogden and participate in a roundtable discussion with Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, on the reorganization of the U.S. Department of Interior.
She said the department's present organizational structure evolved over the last 100 years to include eight distinct bureaus featuring 49 regions — something that would never have been designed that way from the outset.
"It's goofy," she said.
Combs said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants Western headquarters for the BLM, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as well the Bureau of Reclamation, which manages many of the dams, in the West.
She's visited multiple sites in an assessment tour, including Grand Junction, Colorado, Denver, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City. Boise is also on her list to visit.
The winning community, she said, will have a good quality of life, an affordable cost of living, good job opportunities for spouses, recreation, access to health care, low crime and a good workforce.
Tuesday morning, Combs went to the rooftop of the James V. Hansen Federal Building to get a view of the city and its mountains. She later met briefly with Nora Rasure, regional forester for the Intermountain Region, which covers 34 million acres.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell boasted that Ogden is only 30 minutes from skiing, a reservoir for boating and fishing and boasts a network of trails on its east bench. The driving tour took Combs past Mount Ogden Park and its adjacent golf course, a popular destination for families.
At the roundtable discussion, Combs noted that a new map approved last week breaks up the Interior into 12 distinct land-based regions that will allow closer coordination on the ground.
"If we don't deliver better services to you, we have messed up," she said.
Combs noted that during her time in Texas state government, the difference for her was being able to talk to everyday people about the policy and decisions being made and who were the most impacted.
"Some of the best conversations I've had are in the frozen food corridors" of supermarkets, she said.
The reorganization effort will begin first with the region that includes Utah because of the more than 13,000 employees who work for Interior covering four states, the amount of BLM land and the abundance of national parks and monuments, she said.
"This needs to be a slow, thoughtful calm process where we really dig down and get the data," she said.
The roundtable discussion's participants included Bishop, Caldwell, Weber County commissioners, local businesswoman Sarah Lehman and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
Herbert was blunt.
"Madam secretary, there is no better place to bring the headquarters of BLM than Utah," he said, talking up the state's economy, its workforce and quality of life.
Lehman, CEO of Enve Composites, noted she reluctantly moved to Utah from Manhattan with her husband and said she'd give it two years at the most.
That was more than a decade ago.
Lehman built a manufacturing business that crafts carbon fiber bicycle components, distributing in 50 countries around the world.
When it came to pick a spot for the company's global headquarters, they chose Ogden.
"We truly live the outdoor lifestyle," she said. "I always say that employees come for Enve, but stay for Utah."
On Wednesday, Bishop will convene a field hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee in Roosevelt at Union High School on energy and education. On Thursday evening at the Utah State Capitol, he will host a forum on wildland fires.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly identified businesswoman Sarah Lehman as Susan Lehman.