DEP bonuses send wrong message
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, by all means, should emphasize an efficient permit review process. But giving cash bonuses to those workers who rush through the reviews sends a dangerous message: Speed matters more than accuracy. DEP's mission, after all, is to prevent pollution. But this plan rewards workers for being fast, not for being thorough. It is a faulty policy, and lawmakers erred in approving it.As the Tribune's James Rosica reports, DEP leaders asked the Legislative Budget Commission to allow it to use $571,961 for bonuses that would range from less than $1,000 to $5,000. The money would come from $8.8 million DEP saved last year and plans to put into reserves. The commission is made up of 14 lawmakers who can approve spending revisions to the state budget. All but one Democrat went along with the proposal. Republican Sen. Alan Hays of Umatilla defended the bonuses because they would be rewarded for permit decisions that already have been made - and thus could have no influence on workers' decisions. But that misses the point. Every DEP employee now knows that the agency values speed above all. These bonuses, you can bet, will influence workers' attitudes and future permit decisions. There is another issue: Why should workers get hefty bonuses for simply doing their jobs? Private companies, without question, deserve timely answers, and for years endured a sluggish permit process. But the state has taken a number of steps to protect developers from lollygagging regulators. A couple of years ago, lawmakers adopted a measure requiring the DEP to approve or deny a permit request within 60 days of receiving the relevant materials. But DEP's responsibilities extend beyond serving developers. It has an obligation to protect the public and state resources as well. Yet now the DEP implements a bonus system that rewards quick decisions, not necessarily the right ones. It probably will lead to a speedier permit process. We doubt it will lead to a more reliable one.