Tallahassee —The Scott administration has begun laying off environmental employees in a shockingly draconian fashion, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Besides mass firings, state officials are abolishing scores of vacant positions, making it impossible to counter accumulated attrition at a time when environmental performance is already plummeting.
During the past few weeks, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) –
- Fired 25 employees in the Southwest District Office in Tampa and eliminated 14 vacant positions, thus shrinking the workforce by more than a quarter;
- Axed 15 employees in the Tallahassee Division of Water Resources while abolishing another 24 vacancies. One manager was fired because he refused to terminate an employee who was ill; and
- Has told other districts to brace for further “changes.”
The harsh manner of the firings is also striking. In the Tampa office, all 150 district employees were told to pack up their personal belongings and put them in their cars because 25 of them would be fired the next day. They were then told to return to their stations and work the rest of the day. The next day 25 of them were summarily fired and immediately escorted from the building. The surviving employees were then told to retrieve their personal belongings and return to work as if nothing had happened.
“This is no way to treat employees, let alone career public servants,” stated Florida PEER Director Jerry Phillips, a former DEP enforcement attorney. “These callous and needlessly cruel tactics suggest a staggering level of managerial incompetence.”
These moves are being orchestrated by Jeff Littlejohn, the DEP Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs, who has also issued new personnel “criteria” which, among other things –
- Link any pay raise to a cost savings, thus giving DEP supervisors a bonus only if they fire staff;
- Require any DEP vacancies first be outsourced to private industry before considering refilling; and
- Forbid any hiring at all unless deemed “Mission Critical.”
While supervisors are being rewarded for finding creative ways to fire employees, those DEP employees who survive the purge are being directed to drum up instances of how they have achieved “job creation” and cost savings for regulated industries.
“This is supposed to be an environmental agency, not a satellite office for Bain Capital,” Phillips added, noting that basic enforcement of anti-pollution laws in Florida has nose-dived during Governor Rick Scott’s tenure, according to an analysis of agency figures. “DEP has been through some tough times before but employees are saying that this is the absolute pits.”
PEER is also pursuing complaints against both DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard and Littlejohn for violating federal conflict of interest prohibitions due to their prior corporate environmental work. At DEP, corporations that run into environmental trouble have been able to go to both men to obtain “resolution” of their situations.