Bonus program approved, despite concern it costs Florida’s environmentby John Kennedy | June 28th, 2013
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection was authorized Friday to distribute almost $600,000 in bonuses to 269 employees as a reward for improving efficiency and saving$8.8 million in taxpayer money over the past year.
But Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, derided the bonus system as flawed, warning it effectively rewarded state regulators for approving environmental permits more quickly — comprosing the underlying mission of the agency.
“These types of bonuses may impact decision-making when we are putting in incentives to speed up the approval process,” Pafford told the Legislative Budget Commission.
Pafford said the bonus program is troubling given Gov. Rick Scott’s environmental record, which he said favors job-creating industries over protecting water bodies and greenways.
Since taking office in 2011, Scott has signed legislation which cut water management district budgets, resulting in the wholesale layoff of regulators. Scott also eliminated the state’s Department of Community Affairs and sharply scaled back growth management standards, undoing many that had been in place since 1985.
Senate Budget Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, defended the department’s approach. Negron said DEP was seeking approval to use an existing state agency incentive and savings program that had nothing to do with hurrying-up permits.
Negron said DEP had successfully taken steps to assure regulatory actions were taken “in a timely manner.” He pointed out that he, too, would share Pafford’s concerns if improving efficiency meant reducing department standards.
“The way this is drafted, it will not create incentives for specific outcomes,” Negron said.
The measure was approved by the budget commission, an arm of the Legislature, with Pafford the lone vote against the proposal.
DEP deputy secretary Jeff Littlejohn said that 269 employees out of 1,600 in the agency are eligible for the bonuses, which will range from just under $1,000 to about $5,000. The checks are likely to be distributed in August, Littlejohn said.