Washington, DC -- Moving the Department of Environmental Protection Northeastern Regional Office to Boston has dramatically reduced anti-pollution enforcement, disrupted agency operations and destroyed staff morale, according to an employee survey released today by New England Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (New England PEER).
In July of this year, the Romney Administration closed the DEP Northeastern Regional Office (NERO) located in Wilmington, Massachusetts and moved the entire office to Boston. This move, made in the name of economy, placed agency inspectors, engineers and other environmental specialists 15 miles and potentially hours in traffic away from the industries that they are regulating. In mid-October, New England PEER sent a survey to all NERO employees concerning the effects of the move. Of the 148 surveys mailed, nearly 40% (57) were returned.
By overwhelming percentages, the NERO respondents say that the move has hindered the agency from fulfilling its "environmental mission" (95%), weakened environmental enforcement (89%) and hampered DEP effectiveness (88%). The vast majority also report fewer unscheduled inspections (93%) and decreased anti-pollution presence in affected communities (83%). Moreover, affected businesses have had a negative reaction to the move and the diminished services according to 80% of the respondents.
As one employee explains, "Having a regional office is instrumental to the success of DEP from not only an enforcement perspective but also a public outreach perspective. " Another adds, "When we were located in the region – one could do an inspection in the am and then return to the office. Presently an inspection will book entire days out of the office."
NERO employees also register plummeting morale occasioned by the move. More than nine out of ten say that morale is now poor or extremely poor. Nearly all respondents (98%) dispute agency management claims that NERO employees like the move. In addition, more than four out of five employees doubt that "DEP senior management is trying to correct morale problems."
"According to those who should know, the people of Northeastern Massachusetts are less protected from pollution today because the cop on the beat has been moved to Boston," commented New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett who worked with DEP employees to develop the survey questionnaire. "The top-down management style of the Romney Administration creates the strong impression that agency leaders do not care what employees think and do not bother to even ask about real world consequences of decisions before they are made."
The decision to move NERO also appears to have eroded employee regard for the agency leadership:
- Nearly four out of five employees believe that senior management has not "been forthright and honest about changes that have impacted my life." Three out of four feel that senior management has not "been understanding about impacts to family" from the move;
- Nearly three times as many employees lack confidence in DEP Commissioner Robert Golledge's office as have confidence. Fewer than one in five respondents feel that "Golledge is providing able leadership," while more than two thirds have no opinion on his performance.
- Employees are nearly evenly split on confidence in their immediate managers, but less than one in four employees believe their managers "would back up my professional judgment on a controversial decision."
One employee notes that what is missing at DEP is "an acknowledgement that ‘we' are not the enemy, we are a part of a team trying to do a responsible job requiring well trained, experienced professionals." Another decries the lack of "clear and articulated direction on mission and initiatives provided by upper management in a timely fashion," claiming that DEP managers "set us up to fail."
Significantly, more than one in four employees "fear retaliation from my chain of command for advocating strong environmental positions." "In DEP, ‘kill the messenger' is fast becoming the agency motto," added Bennett pointing to other recent cases where DEP has harassed employees who pointed out problems.
The New England PEER survey on the NERO move was completed at the same time plans to also close and move the Southeastern Regional Office to Boston was surfacing. "Centralizing the regional staff in Boston may be dramatically decreasing the Commonwealth's ability to respond to urgent environmental problems, provide an enforcement presence and work with businesses trying to comply with complex environmental regulations," Bennett concluded.
See complete DEP NERO employee survey results
Read the essays that NERO employees wrote about how to improve the agency