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Oh What A Tangled Web We Weave

[Update 2: 10/16/10: Atlantic City Press related story: DEP employees complain about being underfunded, understaffed in letters to boss

Some [DEP staff] suggested that efforts to privatize DEP functions – such as the cleanup of toxic sites – were not going so well.

“Consultants submit poor work products, and staff is expected to help them,” one complaint read. “Staff is reluctant to help because the consultants make so much more than them and staff does not feel as though they need to do the consultant’s job.” ...

The agency this week withdrew a proposal to privatize land-use permitting but is expanding the use of contractors to oversee the cleanup of private pollution.

Bill Wolfe, a former employee with the DEP, said he sees resistance among staff members to some of the proposals.

“They’re saying we pay more for private contractors and they do a worse job. That repudiates management saying that the DEP culture is the barrier,” he said.

Update 1: 10/15/10: Press coverage is unusualy harsh. Have they woken up? Do they smell blood in the water?  Star Ledger story: Release of unapproved N.J. private land-use permitting was a mistake, DEP says

NJ Spotlight story: Administration’s Attempt to Promote Privatization Studied By Assembly Committee – Stealth RFP continues to draw fire from lawmakers and environmentalists

In stunning legislative testimony today, DEP Deputy Commissioner Irene Kropp sought to blame DEP staffers for recommending the controversial plan to issue a Request for Proposals to allow private contractors to review land use permits.

But when she was probed on that claim by legislators, she backed away and admitted that the idea came from Commissioner Martin. Here’s how it went down.

The Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee held a Special Hearing to conduct oversight and explore how and why the RFP came about.

DEP Commisisoner Martin was invited by Chairman McKeon, but Martin ducked the hearing. He sent Deputy Kropp to take the fall for a really bad idea that was done in a stealth manner.

Kropp opened her testimony by tracing the DEP Transformation process, repeating the company line that there would be no weakening of environmental protections. I think Dave Pringle may be the only person in NJ who still believes this.

Kropp spoke of “scarce and dwindling resources”, cited the loss of 175-200 staff each year to attrition, and admitted that “lack of resources is driving transformation“.  I guess Kropp didn’t realize that this justification for transformation flat out contradicts Commissioner Martin’s repeated claims that transformation is needed because “DEP is broken” and requires a “change in culture” to make the agency become more “customer friendly” and “promote economic development”.

Kropp went on to explain the need to focus on DEP’s core mission. Part of that includes considering the ideas of DEP staffers. Kropp said she had received robust participation by DEP staff, including over 800 recommendations. (is “promoting economic development” part of DEP’s “core mission”?)

She then claimed that “everything comes from the staff“, implicitly including the RFP private contractor idea.

At that point, Chairman McKeon interupted Kropp to ask, in obvious disbelief:

“Are you saying that the RFP came from DEP staff?”

Kropp did not directly reply to the question, but said that DEP had been using private contractors to process air permits since 1983. She said that the RFP “did get ahead of Commissioner Martin” and was not fully vetted, but that she was “not making any apologies for that”. Kropp claimed that “nothing is going on behind closed doors”; “nothing is being dictated by upper management”; and the transformation process was “fully transparent”. As evidence, Kropp said that all DEP staff recommendations would be posted on the DEP website.

(Note: sure enough, as I write this I just got a DEP press release titled: DEP POSTS EMPLOYEE REFORM SUGGESTIONS ON WEB.

So I checked them out to see if I could confirm Kropp’s claim that DEP staff recommended privatization of land use permit reviews.

Click on this for DEP recommendations  the land use recommendations are found in comments #346-385:

Maybe #348 is Kropp’s source, but read it closely. Like the gun planted in the hand of the victim shot by cops, it is too good to be true. Spreadsheets are easier to modify than crime scenes, so I just doubt that it is authentic. It verbatim repeats a management transformation objective. Virtually no other staff comments do that. Given the verbatim quote, its direct link to LSP, and the fact that it is prominently the second recommendation in the land use section, I just sense it was inserted as cover:

Transformation Priority to ” Immediately focus on operational and regulatory reforms in the Land Use permitting program, including the expanded use of information technology, electronic submittals, general permits and permits by rule. This Transformation Priority could be mostly accomplished with regulatory reforms which establishing the use of Licensed Land Use Permitting Professionals who have the authority to approve “minor” regulated land use projects.

Most comments are just the opposite: they generally oppose contractors.Try #622 for example:

“The programs waste money using state contractors, when the same service can be provided at a much reduced rate. We sometimes end up paying 4 to 5 times the cost.”

Or #161:

“There is absolutely no doubt that the state will not be able to afford this required maintenance through the use of contractors. We are the only cost-effective answer to this issue”

Or #536

We should utilize the maintenance workforce in our parks. Instead of hiring outside contractors to maintain our buildings, construct pavilions and campgrounds, etc.”

Asssemblyman Gusciora later followed up on McKeon’s question and asked Kropp point blank: “Did any DEP staff recommend the RFP?” “Who suggested that the RFP be issued?”

At this point, Kropp contradicted her prior claims. She said that the privatization idea grew out of a meeting with DEP managers at which Commisioner Martin recommended that the current air permit private contractor program be expanded into the land use program. Based on this meeting, she said 1-2 managers pursued the idea and worked closely with Treasury Department on the RFP for 2 weeks or so.

So the proposal came from Martin, not DEP staff (others have told me that it was discussed during the Christie campaign and during the transition process, and Kropp herself said the Christie Privatization Task Force was involved)..

In response to follow-up questions by Guscioria, Kropp seemed to understand that the staff recommendation cover story was blown, so she then went out of her way to claim that Commissioner Martin never reviewed the RFP documents and the idea was not fully vettted internally.

Kropp’s testimony became increasingly aggressive and went on offense. She refused to back away from the privatization proposal, but merely said it would not be implemented “this year”.

Kropp implicitly criticized legislators for passing more laws and giving DEP more responsibilities without adequate resources. She even challenged legislators and other third parties to come to the table and become part of the necessary transformation.

In what seemed almost like a threat, Kropp said Governor Christie and Commissioner Martin have put “all cards on on the table”, including “privatization, outsourcing, and contracting out”.

McKeon closed the hearing by taking exception to “a variety of things that continue to bubble up”. He mentioned the reinstatement of the Office of Dispute Resolution, which he said was not helpful during the Whitman administration.

McKeon asked to be kept apprised of new policies and said he didn’t want to read about things in the paper.

He closed with a strong warning that he would not stand by and “allow the poor economy to become an excuse for degradation of environmental regulations”.

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  1. G.W. Heyduke
    October 15th, 2010 at 09:41 | #1

    Bill the only good news about this is that they are doing a terrible job of it. But given the high number of folks from the outside that was bound to happen. Sad news is they will learn from mistakes.

    The grand question is how are they going to prevent ethics violations by private firm reviewers? The Legislature can’t even keep it’s self out of jail. No sunshine laws no OPRA- this is permitting in the dark. Terrible idea!

    Lastly when is Dave “Judas the apologist” Pringle going to face up to the fact that he sold the movement out by endorsing this circus. Maybe it’s just pride now – but come on – glad you called him out. I wish the Ledger and others would go to someone else for a quote. Or at least point out that he is in bed with the administration


  2. Bill Wolfe
    October 15th, 2010 at 10:51 | #2

    @G.W. Heyduke

    You are rigth on the money with that, Heyduke. Martin and Co. are incompetent.

    With respect to Pringle, I give him credit this time for opposing the RFP. He even did a 180 on his prior press remarks which emphasized “DEP final say” on permit decisions (a comment I blassted here!).

    But, Pringle not only refused to distance NJEF from the Christie endorsement, he dug in a DEFENDED and REPEATED IT!

    The Committee made a fool of him and further destroyed what’s left of his credibility – its worth listening to the hearign tape.

  3. Bill Wolfe
    October 15th, 2010 at 10:55 | #3

    @G.W. Heyduke

    One more opint I should ahve made in this post:

    Word I have from DEP employees is that staff are afraid of providing any negative comments to Kropp. She is vindictive and will retalaite. The commenss are NOT annonymous.

    So, expecting future layoffs, no one wants to get on Martin and Kropp’s bad side.

    The intimidation is incredible. Kropp opens transformation meetigns with an outright threeat: If DEP staff don’t go along with Martin’s “vision”, DEP will be elimianted! No shit, she actually says that!

  4. October 16th, 2010 at 01:31 | #4

    This is encouraging but I’d like to know where the Assembly Environment and Hazardous Waste Committee when “stakeholders” pushed through the Licensed Site Remediation “Professional” (LSRP) bill that has as much potential or more to harm the environment and public health? Don’t they know that staff in the Site Remediation Program (SRP) can give hundreds of examples of where the consultant hired by the Responsible Party (polluters, developers, etc.) had to be told step by step what to do because they didn’t have competent scientists of their own? And now SRP is actually training private consultants in how to do investigations according to the regulations. NJ will end up spending more money to implement (train consultants) LSRP than it would have cost to staff up more of our own staff. I understand that the state believes state workers are too expensive because of their pensions and benefits. But I have seen consultants milk state grant programs and Publicly Funded projects blind. Somehow paying the private sector three times what state workers get paid for the same work is considered “stimulating the economy” while laying off state employees who know their jobs well because they have been doing it for decades at lower pay BECAUSE of the benefits and pension is wasting money. So if they want to pay us unemployment funds to sit at home while private consultants do our work poorly and make feeble attempts to find the contamination because they don’t want to be fired by the client (pollulters, etc.), fine. I don’t intend to buy land in NJ……..you won’t know what you are buying or what’s under it in short order. The comments after today’s Star-Ledger article about Kropp’s testimony made me groan. There are still those property owners out there who don’t want anyone to tell them what to do with their land. Fine but air and groundwater don’t recognize property boundaries. That is what the regulations are for. Yet, the Supreme Court under Dubya Bush ruled that it is okay for a town to condemn perfectly good houses in order to build “luxury” homes for the rich so that they get higher property taxes (ratables). The whole state has gone totally moronic.

  5. October 16th, 2010 at 09:18 | #5

    @Bob Frapples

    Thanks Bob – you are absolutely right on every point.

    In response to your question: The Chairman of the Asssembly Solid Waste and Environment Cmte was a sponsor of the LSP bill! Loyalty to a Democratic Gov. and taking care of developers were more important that protecting public health – recall that the LSP idea was sold by Lisa Jackson.

  6. October 16th, 2010 at 12:45 | #6

    I forgot to mention that Irene looks like Groucho Marx with that hairdo.

  7. Seldom Seen Smith
    October 17th, 2010 at 11:03 | #7

    Whether you agree with her or not, Irene had a pretty good reputaion around the DEP as a producer, hard worker, and someone who cares about the Department. It’s terrible that she’s going to scheme with, and then fall on her sord for Martin. Gotta love what this admin is doing to the DEP and it’s best people. Sad.

  8. October 17th, 2010 at 11:19 | #8

    @Seldom Seen Smith

    Seldom – Thanks for the comment, but can you offer up any evidence of Krop’s favorable reputation or careeer achievements at DEP?

    She led the charge for the LSP program under Lisa Jackson and testified to reverse recetn notificatio requirements that the realtors opposed, so I don’t see anything special about what this Administration is doing “to it’s (sic) best people”.

    I think Kropp is responsible for the NJEMS system, which many DEP staffers have told me is dysfunctional and came n way over budget. Has she done anyhting else of note?

    Many DEP staffers have told e she opens the transformation meetigns with a threat: cooperate with martin’a agenda or be downsized.

    Who do you talk to at DEP?

  9. October 17th, 2010 at 11:28 | #9

    @Seldom Seen Smith

    Seldom – one more point – Kropp recently testified in Burzichelli’s Committee wupporting a bill to ban guidance – during that testimony, she also supported some other Red Tape Report ideas.

    FYI, I later wrote about those issues here:

    and here:

  10. October 17th, 2010 at 15:05 | #10

    When thinking of Irene, which I try very hard not to do, one expression comes to mind: “Blind Ambition”.

  11. Seldom Seen Smith
    October 17th, 2010 at 20:06 | #11

    Given the astronomical number of sites to be remediated vs staff to handle remediation, Irene was part of a group of people who had to make a decision on either not getting the work done at all (or in this lifetime) or getting it done in a new way, namely licensing. The LSR program was highly vetted and is heavily regulated by DEP, a far cry from the current sneak attack under the cover of night to hire contractors. Some would say the term “license” in LSRP is akin to “permit”. The NJEMS system while cumbersome was cutting edge technology when it was adopted. When used properly, it allows for users from different divisions to know what’s going across divisional boundaries, track activities etc. It also allows for managers to monitor what’s getting done and what’s not, who is working and who is not etc. Staff hate it, managers and watchdogs love it. Why the DEP got in on the ground floor is a mystery to me, although I’ve heard that the DEP makes a return on enhancements they helped create. “Transformation” is a buzz word. Catch the buzz or don’t, it doesn’t matter. Smart staff are using “transformation” to change the things they don’t like about policies from the last admin. Like I said, there are people who don’t agree with Irene, but still respect her. Integrity does not mean we all agree all the time, but this fiasco about staff jumping the gun is complete boulder-dash. What staff member has the authority execute this kind of process? And who accepted the directive at Treasury, another overzealous staff member? Give me a break!

  12. Bill Wolfe
    October 17th, 2010 at 20:54 | #12

    @Seldom Seen Smith

    Seldom – I asked for evidence – you provided none.

    LSP is not “heavily regulated” – care to back that one up?

    Martin is gutting the Highlands Septic Density standard – how does enforcement feel about that?

    How do land use enforcement staff feel about phone calls over-riding field NOV’s? ADR as end run around penalty assessments?

    And why is Larry B. now in enforcement?

    Smart DEP staff are working with this adminsitration? Are you kidding me?

    Be specific – what is it you object to by the last Administration? What do you support in Christie/Martin?

    You are an apologist.

    As you may know, I spetn 13 ears at DEP, so if you’re going to come here and crap all over the place, you better back it up with facts and regulatory meat.

  13. Seldom Seen Smith
    October 18th, 2010 at 09:45 | #13

    Never appoligized for anyone Bill. Licenses are issued and revoked by DEP. Want to see your credibility go down the tubes? get your license revoked. I’m no fan of Martin, but he can’t change adopted rules (regulations) unilaterally. The density standards are currently the same, being enforced and if they propose to change them you can fight during the comment period. Actually the easiest way to fight the standards throuh the back door is through enforcement and that has not happened. Phone calls don’t override NOVS unless they are statutorily incorrect. More often, phone calls from insistent complainants force NOVs when one is not warranted. ADR is a waste of time unless it’s going to be handled by an independent third party and the DEP almost always reduces assessments all by itself for cases that are not adjudicated. I don’t know Larry B., but career staff with cross-program experience like Larry move around all the time. I didn’t say smart staff work with the admin, I said smart staff are using “transformation” to change things they don’t like about the last admin. For example: giving activists’ opinion more credit than staff’s oppinion. Take it easy Bill, your gunna blow a hamstring pulling your 13 year DEP badge.

  14. October 18th, 2010 at 10:29 | #14

    Seldom – Your comments are extremely revealing.

    I think the public would be disgusted that a DEP enforcement staffer:

    1) thinks that public complaints (“insistent complaintants”) “force NOV’s where one is not waranted:

    2) accuses former Commissioner Jackson of “giving activsits’ opinion more credit than staff’s opinion”, yet compeletely ignores the daily and dominant intervention and influence of industry, particulalry on the current Commissioner Martin;

    3) offers excuses and opinions that are not backed up by facts – why not just give larry a call and ask him why he was moved out of watershed management?

    BTW, my hamstrings are stronger than ever – did 50-100 miles per week all summer long on the bike.

  15. October 18th, 2010 at 12:26 | #15

    Smith: You are either extremely naive, a newcomer to DEP, a politically connected and appointed person, or all of the above. Yes, Kropp appears to be hard-working but she also has been caught in the parking lot with her boyfriend TWICE and you’ll have to ask the state police who caught them whether or not they were just talking. And that was during the Corzine administration so apparently she knows how to play politics just fine. No need to feel sorry for or to defend Irene.

    But coffee breaks aside, Irene never took the usual nose-to-the-grindstone and ethical approach to work. Everyone who has spent a year or more at DEP can tell you that gets you NOWHERE. It is the same with either party in power. It becomes a competition to spin what you want to coincide with the administration. Some of us don’t consider it ethical and can’t force ourselves to say things we don’t believe for the sake of a promotion. So we languish in a title and go nowhere. There are people with a great deal of academic/technical/work experience who truly do the work of the DEP but if they don’t use the right buzz words, get on the band wagon, sell their very soul, they MAY be allowed to continue to do their work or they may be eliminated for the sake of expediency by the next political hack hoping to please the current Commish/Guv. For instance, career scientists that were extremely good in their chosen profession were gutted by Jeanne Herb who wanted them to do more policy and less science. Thankfully, she was removed because she’s a Democrat. But there are others who replaced her.

    LSRP was started by Corzine but I doubt he though of it. It is clearly the work/desire of NJ Developers, industry (Chemical Council, oil industry, etc.). I’ve spoken with environmental consultants who do NOT like the idea! Why? Because they recognize that all the liability is now on them. Consultants used to be able to tell their client that they needed to do this or that to comply with the regulations. Now, they fear that the client will tell them to do it this way or that or they will go out and get another consultant. IT WILL HAPPEN! It has been DEP’s responsibility to oversee investigations and demand additional investigation or remediation. Of course the likelihood of noticing something is lacking is a matter of the experience and thoroughness of the DEP reviewer. This is where DEP was “broken”. They needed MORE staff who had experience and they needed to encourage that they administer the rules consistently across all parties. That was never the case, however, as one commish after another in both parties would get a phone call from the Guv telling them to give one case or another extra-special attention (shortcuts, expedited review, hand-holding, help to their consultants, relaxation of rules, etc.). If there ever was a class-action suit by the smaller mom-and-pop Responsible Parties, they would win a bundle for “arbitrary and capricous” enforcement. (and I know I spelled that wrong but I’m not a lawyer). The Guv, this one and the last included, takes their cues from industry and others who fund their campaigns and threaten to take jobs out of the state if they don’t get their way.

    As for the true “clients” of the DEP, the citizens of New Jersey will suffer in the end. It may take a few years, but there will be a NJ version of “Love Canal” or other environmental disaster and then DEP will be the scapegoat. When LSRP was first touted, it was written in the news that it was supported by DEP. Be very careful about assuming that what is promoted by the upper mgmt is supported by the rank and file. They are two very different things. The upper mgmt, such as Bob Martin, may be totally unaware of what the staffers are really doing. He can stand up there and talk about stream-lining and serving our clients all he wants. Most of the time, he sounds like one of those overpaid management trainers, like the Dale Carnegie-type puppets, who use the currently popular phrases as if they got extra points for squeezing more of them in than the last guy. People who have been around awhile, which is most of the DEP staffers, are not fooled. We have seen this all before at DEP and elsewhere. What DEP needs and has always needed is for the Governor to leave us alone to do our jobs and give us more staff. Yes, there are some lazy civil servants. But there are lazy *ss kissers in the private sector too. They are everywhere. What we don’t need is for them to be the ones telling us how to do our jobs.

  16. Seldom Seen Smith
    October 18th, 2010 at 14:07 | #16

    @Dee Coy
    Can’t say I disagree too much with too much of what you say, except for that I’m naive, politically connected, appointed, newcomer to the DEP. I also notice that you don’t have to back up your opinion with detailed facts, but that’s OK. In any event, consultants hate it when they have to be responsible. I know its easier to do things slower and with more meetings, in effect make the staffer the consultant, and jack up costs. But I think we agree there is always BS on both sides of the Admin political aisle. Yes, more staff would be best for oversight, but I don’t think its going to happen, the public just doesn’t support it anymore. Cut Cut Cut is what they want to see. And the guy who just lost his job refinancing mortgages for 100K/year after a long work experience of delivering pizzas gets his way, then he’ll likely want to see people get fired. So what’s the choice, no remediation, or remediation in an unpalatable manner? What do you think the public wants? As for the new admin, “smart” means using the parts you like -pause and smile- don’t use the parts you don’t like, and survive to do good work in the future. If you can’t stay at the table, you’ll never get the chance to have a long term impact (although I admit small personal impacts sometimes have great effect). My guess is that this will be a flash in the pan and they’ll have to deal with a new Comm soon enough, and then someone will reinvent the wheel all over again. As you may recall contractors -what this discussion was all about in the first place- as well as onestop and ADR are not new ideas.

  17. October 27th, 2010 at 00:26 | #17

    “survive to do good work in the future. If you can’t stay at the table, you’ll never get the chance to have a long term impact”. Ah, justification just like the spineless managers at DEP, Smith.

  18. Bill Wolfe
    October 27th, 2010 at 04:56 | #18

    @Bob Frapples
    Bob F – yes, that is the bureaucrat’s survival code.

    Lacking in courage or conviction, principle or ethics.

    Merely a salve to the conscience for passive acceptance of the status quo.

  19. October 31st, 2010 at 23:59 | #19

    That is the Deputy Chief of Staff sitting to the right of the Deputy Commissioner (yes they use all possible permutations of titles to get all those political hacks a job). The Chief of Staff is Padilla, a woman.

  20. November 1st, 2010 at 21:28 | #20

    The jumbo tron in the DEP lobby indicates that the first LSRP Board meeting is November 15th.

  21. November 9th, 2010 at 01:52 | #21

    I wonder how Seldom Seen Smith survived the “Friday Night Massacre” at DEP (“Transformation” on 11-05-10).

  22. ethical annie
    December 11th, 2010 at 13:27 | #22

    getting back to ehics. What is proper ? Irene Kropp is now involved
    with Brian Horne the owner of the Henery Harris Landfill. Hes admitting this torrid affair and frankly I would like to know “what favors ” are currently being offered to Mr. Horne by Irene. Please someone tell me is this a conflict of interest? mr. Horne has had numerous problems with the DEP, so is Irene now helping him in exchange for first class tickets to his condo in florida? Should this be looked at?

  1. November 7th, 2010 at 13:11 | #1
  2. March 27th, 2011 at 05:22 | #2
  3. July 31st, 2011 at 08:51 | #3
  4. January 1st, 2012 at 13:01 | #4
  5. March 9th, 2012 at 11:29 | #5
  6. December 14th, 2012 at 14:37 | #6
  7. May 15th, 2015 at 14:47 | #7
  8. June 12th, 2015 at 09:32 | #8
  9. August 15th, 2015 at 14:24 | #9
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