In recent years, MassDEP's budget has been significantly reduced, from a high of $62 million in 2002 to $46 million in fiscal year 2011. Staffing has been cut commensurately, from 1200 full time equivalents in 2002 to 840 today. Yet MassDEP's responsibilities have increased rather than contracted during this time period, and its resources are now out of alignment with its responsibilities. This deficit jeopardizes MassDEP's ability to perform its vital functions. To remedy this problem, MassDEP will move forward with a three-part plan: 1) upgrades to its information technology systems; 2) internal restructuring, and 3) regulatory reform. This document is a scope of work for regulatory reform.
I have asked the agency to undertake a comprehensive effort to identify and implement reforms to existing regulations, policies and practices that will allow the agency to reduce staff time spent on certain regulatory and permitting activities while maintaining its high standards for environmental permitting and enforcement. This initiative will expand upon the successful efforts launched by MassDEP in 2007 to streamline certain permitting and appeals processes and ensure that MassDEP's permits are issued within six months as directed by Governor Patrick. This renewed effort at streamlining and reform is primarily aimed at finding additional areas for improved efficiency and identifying alternative regulatory mechanisms. These alternatives may include broader use of information technology, greater reliance on self-certification and audit programs, or shifting certain tasks to third parties. The agency will explore expanded use of models that have been successfully used in the past. For example, the Chapter 21E program administered by the Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup is a national model for use of licensed site professionals to oversee private cleanup activities, backed up by strong MassDEP auditing and enforcement activities. Similarly, the Environmental Results Program has found efficient ways to regulate certain industry sectors through use of general permits, performance standards and private certifications.
Finding efficiencies in the way we operate is not a novel idea, and many reforms have already been made by MassDEP. It will not be easy to identify quick-fix solutions to improving our operations. However, our current budget realities require us to think and act differently. The current staffing levels at the agency are inadequate to guarantee timely and predictable permitting outcomes in the event permit applications begin to increase as the economy recovers, to assure municipalities and the public that we will maintain all of the technical outreach and assistance services they currently rely on, or to maintain current compliance and enforcement levels and a level playing field for Massachusetts businesses. In order to avoid potential permitting backlogs and reduced compliance moving forward, and to ensure that MassDEP is well positioned to continue serving as a national leader in setting and enforcing environmental standards, we need to look seriously at all options.
To be successful, this exercise will require broad input from within the agency, from regulated entities, from experienced environmental practitioners outside of MassDEP, and stakeholders from the environmental, municipal and business communities. In developing ideas for consideration, agency and other participants should be aware of the following principles and guidelines:
- First and foremost, recommended reforms should not weaken or undermine environmental protection standards in any way. Proposals to reduce direct oversight or to privatize certain tasks must be coupled with robust compliance and enforcement mechanisms.
- All of MassDEP's programs should be considered as potential candidates for regulatory or permitting reforms. Not every program will necessarily be a good candidate for this type of reform effort, but we need to begin with an open mind.
- Recommended regulatory or permitting changes should be aimed primarily at helping MassDEP manage its responsibilities within our current staffing levels. Potential changes that increase staffing needs will not be considered; changes that maintain the current staffing level may be considered, but will not receive the same priority as labor-saving reforms.
- Reforms should prioritize regulatory provisions within the agency's control and discretion, and should not rely on changes to state or federal law. However, proposed statutory changes could be considered as part of longer-term efforts at regulatory reform.
- Reforms should not be targeted at transferring new responsibilities to municipalities, as our cities and towns also are strained by budget decreases.
To further this initiative and overall implementation of the three-part plan, I have appointed a Steering Committee composed of senior managers at MassDEP which will soon begin the process of soliciting internal suggestions and engaging practitioners and stakeholders to address these topics. An external stakeholder committee will be formed to guide the overall effort, and other existing advisory committees and individual stakeholders will also be asked to weigh in. The other focus areas of the three-part plan (i.e., upgrades to the information technology systems and internal restructuring) will move forward on a parallel track. I expect the outcomes from this regulatory reform initiative will help inform the evaluation and decision-making related to any internal restructuring and information technology modernization.
I have asked that the Steering Committee commence its work immediately, and submit preliminary recommendations to me during the summer of 2011. Once I have reviewed and vetted these recommendations, MassDEP will seek broader public engagement and comment on the proposed reforms to ensure a full public process prior to implementation of any changes.
Kenneth L. Kimmell,