- Report Published -
|Review of the Department of Environmental Quality|
|Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission|
|HJR 531 (Regular Session, 1995)|
|In 1993 the General Assembly created the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) by merging four State agencies: the State Water Control Board, the Department of Air Pollution Control, the Department of Waste Management, and the Council on the Environment. In 1994, DEQ's new management began a comprehensive reorganization of the agency that is ongoing. This reorganization has resulted in significant staff reductions and decentralization of program responsibility to DEQ's regional offices.|
JLARC's review of the Department of Environmental Quality was mandated by House Joint Resolution 531 (HJR 531), approved by the 1995 General Assembly. The study mandate directed JLARC to prepare an interim report for the 1996 General Assembly and a final report for the 1997 General Assembly. This report presents interim staff findings from the review of DEQ.
Major conclusions of the current study are:
• DEQ's reorganization has not been supported by adequate strategic and analytical planning.
• Some of DEQ's personnel management practices during the reorganization have been problematic.
• Employee morale and trust in agency management at DEQ are low.
• Employee views are mixed with regard to the effectiveness of the reorganized DEQ.
DEQ's Reorganization Needs Improved Planning
DEQ's leadership team has paid insufficient attention to long-range, strategic planning and systematic analysis. It is also difficult to determine the rationale and analytical processes used by the agency's management in making decisions about staffing cuts. DEQ has not undertaken strategic planning, has only sparse documentation of planning for the reorganization, and does not appear to have carefully planned position reductions. The lack of planning for position reductions is reflected in the agency not consulting with supervisors of laid off employees, still having some redundant management positions, and adding staff in areas where position reductions occurred earlier in the reorganization.
The lack of systematic planning underlying the reorganization makes it difficult to assess: (1) the degree to which DEQ management expects to make further organizational changes, and (2) the degree to which the agency's authorized staffing level is adequate to effectively carry out its environmental programs.
DEQ should develop a strategic plan for the agency, and DEQ management should use this strategic plan in making decisions about the agency's organization, staffing, and structure. In addition, DEQ should determine its resource requirements for implementing a new program mandate, the Title V operating permits required by the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.
DEQ's Personnel Management Practices Are Problematic
JLARC staff's review of DEQ's reorganization identified concerns with the agency's personnel practices and with employee morale and trust in agency management. Concerns regarding personnel management include use of inappropriate interview questions, questionable use of wage employees, the involvement of the Secretary of Natural Resources in agency hiring, and a perception among agency employees of favoritism in the agency's hiring. A number of respondents to the JLARC employee survey cited DEQ's questionable personnel management practices as a key factor contributing to the agency's low morale. In addition, the agency is preparing to implement an agency-specific personnel system for compensation, classification, and performance evaluation. DEQ's personnel management problems raise concerns about the desirability of providing it authority for its own personnel system.
DEQ Employee Morale and Trust in Agency Management Are Low
JLARC's survey of DEQ employees suggests that employee morale and trust in agency management are low. While organizational change itself can have a negative effect on morale, other factors contributing to low morale at DEQ appear to be: problematic internal communication in the agency, a low level of trust among employees in agency management, and fear of job loss. The survey item regarding agency morale asked respondents to agree or disagree with the statement that "DEQ employee morale is good." This survey item had been used in three previous JLARC employee surveys of State employees at other agencies. The top half of the table on page III of this report compares the results of these surveys.
JLARC staff found that DEQ's morale problems extend throughout the agency, including headquarters staff and staff in the agency's regional offices. In addition to the finding that morale in the agency is low, JLARC staff also found that trust in agency management is low. The bottom half of the table on page III of this report compares survey responses on trust in agency management from DEQ employees and the previous JLARC study that used this survey item.
Employee Views Are Mixed About the Effectiveness of the Reorganized DEQ
DEQ employees generally agreed that the agency is making progress towards its goals of improving customer service and empowering regional employees, although DEQ employees differed on whether these were appropriate goals for the agency. A plurality of DEQ employees thought that the new DEQ would be less efficient and effective than the former DEQ. Forty percent thought that the new DEQ would be less efficient and effective, 27 percent of DEQ employees thought that the new DEQ would be more efficient and effective, and 27 percent thought that the new DEQ would be about the same.
The JLARC survey also asked DEQ employees whether the agency was advancing towards a number of goals stated in the agency's reorganization plan. One of these goals was maintaining environmental quality. Forty-nine percent of DEQ's employees disagreed with the statement that DEQ was maintaining environmental quality; 33 percent agreed with the statement.
Another survey finding is that DEQ technical employees fear retaliation for making a decision consistent with law and regulation but which upsets a member of the regulated community. Forty-three percent of technical employees responding to the survey thought that their jobs would not be at risk if they made a decision consistent with law and regulation but which raised concern among members of the regulated community. Forty-one percent of employees thought their jobs would be at risk to some extent. Sixteen percent of employees thought their jobs would be at risk to a very great extent. A total of 57 percent of DEQ technical employees responding to this survey item indicated some fear of retaliation.
Implications of Phase I Findings
This phase of the review concentrated on DEQ's ongoing reorganization, and it identified concerns with inadequate planning for the reorganization, DEQ's personnel practices, and the low level of DEQ employee morale and trust in agency management. The findings from this phase of the review need to be placed in context. DEQ's current leadership team has significantly changed the emphasis, structure, and approach that the agency takes in fulfilling its statutory mandate. It is too early in this process to determine the effectiveness of these changes.
However, the effectiveness of a reorganization is oftentimes affected by the planning and management of the change process as well as the degree to which employees "buy in" to the change process. DEQ's change process needs more effective management and planning to improve the implementation of changes. Better agency management may also assist the agency in getting employees to buy into the change process by providing employees with needed information about the rationale, goals, objectives, and specifics of proposed changes. At present, JLARC survey findings indicate that DEQ's leadership team faces significant challenges in improving low levels of employee morale and lack of trust in agency management. Both of these factors potentially hamper DEQ management's efforts to restructure the agency to be more efficient and effective.
In addition, given that the great majority of DEQ's resources are spent on salaries and benefits, concerns about personnel practices hinder the agency's ability to be as efficient and effective as possible. Concerns identified in this report about the agency's hiring practices and proposed implementation of a new personnel system should be addressed by the agency's management in order to improve employee morale and trust in management as well as the organization's effectiveness and efficiency. In addition, some aspects of concerns about DEQ's personnel management raise larger questions for the Governor, as the State's chief personnel officer, and the General Assembly regarding the management of the State workforce. These questions include the role of wage employees, the role of cabinet secretaries in agency hiring, and appropriate guidelines for agency-specific personnel systems.