Passage of the state budget and looming battles over school choice and privatization of the commonwealth's liquor stores have dominated the policy debate in Harrisburg. But, almost quietly an equally important trend has emerged with the Corbett Administration: the reorganizing of cabinet agencies to make them more efficient and accountable.
A case in point is the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. This is a behemoth bureau with an annual General Fund budget of over $140 million. Spending on the agency is actually down from a high of $217 million in the 2008-2009 fiscal year. With increasing demands for its services, especially given the boom of drilling in the Marcellus Shale region, the department has been called on to do more with less.
Governor Tom Corbett appointed as Secretary of DEP a man with considerable experience in environmental matters. Michael Krancer served for many years on the state's Environmental Hearing Board, for a time as its chairman. He has the unusual distinction of having been appointed to the board by a Republican Governor, Tom Ridge, and then being reappointed by Democratic Governor Ed Rendell after having left the board to pursue election to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Krancer's DEP has a difficult job to perform. It is primarily tasked with ensuring the air, water and land of Penn's Woods remains clean. This stewardship must be balanced against the needs of a state whose economy is significantly dependent on manufacturing and on the extraction of natural resources. As the economy continues struggling to emerge from the recession, businesses large and small are pointing to government regulation and bureaucracy as a major obstacle to recovery.
Against this backdrop Secretary Krancer has undertaken a major reorganization of his agency's structure. Krancer says: "These organizational changes will enhance the department's ability to protect Pennsylvania's air, water and land, and also will result in a consistent and predictable regulatory system." Predictability and consistency are two key elements in creating a favorable business climate. These qualities have too often been lacking at DEP placing Pennsylvania at a competitive disadvantage with other states when it coming to convincing business to locate or to expand here.
For example, DEP has six regional offices throughout the commonwealth. The permitting process and the requirements for obtaining permits varied from office to office. This resulted in confusion, lost time and manpower hours in preparing and supplementing permits, and ultimately higher costs to business.
Krancer's DEP brought personnel from the six regional offices together and tasked them with developing one consistent system for permitting. It wasn't a top-down edict; rather regional directors were empowered to develop a consistent new system on their own. It worked and, while more work remains to be done, the system is now more consistent and efficient.
The reorganization, however, is not only about business. It also reflects the need for effective protection of the environment. That includes fixing what was not done properly in the past. A new bureau of Environmental Cleanup and Brownfields has been created to oversee site clean-up. "Brownfield" is enviro-speak for land which has been contaminated by past industrial activity and must be cleaned up before it can be reassigned a new use. The restoration of such sites is an important element in the revitalization of many communities, or simply the enhancement of having clean open space.
New emphasis will also be placed on prevention. The creation of a new Office of Pollution Prevention and Energy Assistance is seen as an educational tool to assist in the deployment of new technologies that will result in cleaner air and water and prevent the creation of more problem areas that would otherwise be costly to reclaim.
The changes at Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection show what can be done when top leadership is willing to look at an agency and objectively separate what works from what doesn't. This is exactly what happens every day in the private sector. Competition forces businesses to constantly reinvent themselves and to operate more efficiently. The element of competition is lacking in government, but successful business management principles still apply.
Given its mandate to protect our environment, and the impact the agency has on business, DEP is a department that must constantly change and evolve to serve both masters successfully. The first steps have been taken in that direction and the success or failure of the initiative will have a significant impact on virtually every Pennsylvanian.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is email@example.com.)
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