PEER mailed all ADEC employees a survey composed by a group of their colleagues in late January; nearly one-third (32%) of those receiving surveys responded. Clear majorities of respondents believe that ADEC -
- "Often puts more weight on economic development than resource protection" and views its "primary 'customer' to be the individuals and businesses that seek permits rather than the public or the resource;"
- Inconsistently enforces environmental laws, favoring big industries over "the interests of ordinary citizens and small business;" and
- Reassigns staff "for doing their job 'too well' on a controversial project."
One in five report knowledge of orders to "violate State law" while one in three "fear job-related retaliation for openly advocating policy or permit decisions that are unfavorable to major industries." More than one out of three cite cases in which -
- ADEC leaders "blocked enforcement against politically influential members of the regulated community;"
- "Permit applicants have received preferential review after they have met with the Administration regarding a proposed project;" and
- Industry "unduly influenced ADEC Administration's assignment of specific DEC staff to specific permits."
"From this portrait, it appears that ADEC employees must cast a profile in courage while enforcing the law against certain industries," commented PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "For example, many employees say that the oil industry carries a 'get out of jail free' card in Alaska's environmental protection agency."
Employees also question the environmental commitment of the Knowles Administration:
- Nearly three out of four employees contend that ADEC has insufficient resources "to fulfill its environmental mandates;"
- Little more than a quarter of employees believe that the "latest ADEC reorganization (under the Knowles Administration in December 2001) has improved agency operations;" and
- Of those familiar with her work, well more than half of respondents gave ADEC Commissioner Michelle Brown a grade of "C" or less in "doing an effective job protecting Alaska's natural resources."
Overall, employees are split on whether ADEC is effective, efficient and has ethical leadership. On agency morale, however, employees are quite decided - two out of three rate morale as poor.
PEER has conducted similar surveys in more than twenty-five state and federal environmental agencies. In several states, PEER surveys have sparked criminal investigations, legislative reviews and the adoption of administrative or legal reforms.
"This survey is an opportunity for ADEC employees to speak candidly and collectively to their true employers - the citizens of Alaska," commented Ruch, who noted that PEER survey results have closely tracked those conducted by the agencies themselves. "Precisely because the professional staff are the public's eyewitnesses, experts and enforcers, policymakers as well as ADEC management should be interested in hearing what the employees think."
Complete PEER survey results, including employee essays, are available upon request.