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Secretary Collin O'Mara's message to DNREC
employees about future plans for the department

 

DNREC Team,

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to all of you and your families for your contributions to the department and our environment over the past year. The passion, dedication and creativity I have witnessed during the past seven months are incredible.  In the spirit of giving thanks and looking forward, I write to offer some observations and thoughts for the coming months.

By any measure, it has been a challenging year (and I’m not just talking about everyone having to break in a kid from California). A year ago economic storm clouds were on the horizon and the financial health of our businesses, governments and individuals were all trending negatively. Over the months that followed the news was peppered with stories of businesses failing, layoffs, and personal misfortunes of one kind or another.  As a result of the economic downturn, government revenues have plunged and over the past two years the Department has seen its General Fund budget reduced by just over 14%, a reduction in our total compliment of more than 70 positions, and no fee increases. Throughout this time, each of you persevered, living the Department’s mission and adjusting the operations to live within our dwindling means. Despite the challenges, we were able to accomplish great things and avoided anyone having to be laid off... and for this I thank each of you. 

As we look forward to next year, the early indications are that we will continue to face serious financial constraints. We will need to continue to find innovative ways to meet our department’s critical mission despite a sharply reduced staffing compliment. Although we have already taken many substantial steps to manage our resources responsibly, if the outlook for the economy and State finances continue to deteriorate, we must be prepared to face greater budget reductions. To this end, we’ve prepared 5% and 10% reduction contingency plans, much of which can be achieved without position reductions. If severe cuts are required, please rest assured that if any staff is affected we will work hard to ensure that personnel affected will be deployed in other programs that are critical to the priorities of a 21st century department. 

Facing these tough financial and staffing challenges while also fulfilling our department’s mission will require us to take a hard look at the way we do business. Over the past several months, I have spoken with hundreds of you about your ideas for improving our operations.  Through conversations, emails, memo, surveys and most recently three Town Hall meetings, I have listened and heard great ideas from across the agency. In early October, I sent an email with some initial thoughts about the feedback I’ve received and some of the common themes.  In the past few weeks and during the town hall meetings, we shared some key observations: 

  • There’s a general frustration with the status quo of limited resources and unfilled positions, while always being asked to do more and more with less.

  • We need more opportunities for cross-training and collaboration.  People want to expand their knowledge and work with colleagues on challenges that transcend divisions.

  • We need to improve communication at all levels.   Automated systems don't talk across divisional lines.  We have lots of data but we gather it differently and don’t share it particularly well.  We can improve our results by eliminating the silos and reducing duplication of efforts.

  • We need to get back to basics and focus on the mission of the department.

  • We need to focus more resources on the programs and work to shrink the Office of the Secretary.  It's also good that OTS will be taking a more collaborative/ coordination role.

  • Personnel processes are burdensome and straining all of us. As a corollary, if folks take on more and improve  their skill set, we should be compensated in some way for the investment.

  • Upper management needs to be held accountable and be more supportive of staff needs and ideas.

As a result of all of these efforts, we’ve been thinking through a new structure for the way the department operates. I shared the outline of this at the town hall meetings, specifically looking to group the Natural Resource (Parks, Fish & Wildlife, Soil & Water Conservation) and the Environmental Protection (Water Resources, Air Quality, Waste Management/Soils) functions more closely to increase collaboration and reduce inefficiencies/duplications of effort, as well as increasing our capacity in the emerging areas of energy and climate. The proposed model is intended to strengthen overall accountability, improve communication within/among divisions, focus our efforts on a clear mission  and shared goals while reducing mission creep, enhancing collaboration on multi-media challenges and cumulative impacts leveraging resources, and empowering leadership at various levels.  To this end, I recently submitted to the Office of Management and Budget a proposed budget for FY 2011 that will support the initial steps of the transformation of the Department and hopefully lays the groundwork for fulfilling these aspirations. This will allow us to best manage future reductions, reduce inefficiencies, and generate savings with the hope of avoiding layoffs even in the face of further economic downturn.

Similar to the thoughts I have shared over the past several months the priorities that are reflected in the proposed budget for the Department are:

Transforming DNREC into a model 21st century department that better aligns our functions by ensuring efficient service delivery and coordination across media (air, water, soil/waste),  integrating emerging priorities (climate, energy), modernizing public hearing/permitting processes so that they are transparent, consistent, and efficient, adapting  to fiscal realities by realignment and  cross-training and improving performance by implementing performance measurement systems that collect and track data on key performance and environmental indicators.  The redesign of DNREC will produce a smaller and more efficient government that supports sustainable economic development.

Providing world-class parks/open-space, recreational opportunities, and habitat/ biodiversity protection through expanded land conservation efforts, completing key acquisition and preservation projects, enhancing recreational opportunities: providing youth programs, parks and wildlife areas, interconnected trails, hunting and fishing, and coordinating habitat preservation and ecological restoration efforts.  These investments will improve the quality of life for residents, enhance the attractiveness of the State to residents and growing companies, improve resident health and well-being, and provide educational opportunities for youth that will prepare them to become environmental stewards of the future.

Improving public health and environmental outcomes by focusing upon high impact activities that will enhance air quality, water quality/supply, soil quality/waste management and habitat/biodiversity protection. Through the proposed reorganization these programs will become more efficient, transparent and consistent—all of which will create economic opportunity by encouraging investment and accelerating responsible economic development. This effort would initially focus on larger facilities with the goal to ensure that every major facility/project is in regulatory compliance.

Transitioning Delaware towards a sustainable green economy through integration of a climate prosperity strategy into all aspects of departmental and Cabinet-wide operations that is built upon sound energy policy and programs that focus on conservation, efficiency, and clean renewable energy.  This also includes transforming energy and climate policy in the state by  implementing the vision of the Sustainable Energy Utility, further integrating of environmental and health externalities into the Integrated Resource Planning process, participating in Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and other climate mitigation efforts, developing adaption plans to address rising sea level and other ecological impacts of climate change, supporting offshore wind deployment/production and other opportunities to grow a green economy, taking a leadership role among state agencies and leading by example on energy issues related to energy consumption, building operations, and fleet management, promoting sustainable practices through a land use agenda focusing on more sustainable development practices.  The numerous initiatives detailed in the climate prosperity strategy align with Administration priorities and serve as a pathway towards a vibrant and sustainable green economy.

So how do we accomplish all of this? We’ll need to begin a series of activities over several different time horizons:

 Within the next 6-12 months:

  • Align our programmatic functions within the proposed Natural Resources and Environmental Protection groupings. The divisions will still function as budget units, but will work much more closely together as part of two broader holistic groups to ensure much greater collaboration, leveraging of resources, sharing of best practices, and coordination of decision-making. This new approach will enable the department to better manage through attrition, generate efficiencies, and identify cost savings.

  • As part of the transition to a broader, holistic approach to Environmental Protection, begin a strategic planning process to integrate the numerous regulatory, permitting and enforcement programs more comprehensively across media (air, water, waste/soil) with a focus on evaluating cumulative impacts and creating greater efficiencies in process timelines through value stream mapping (goal: efficient, consistent, science-based, and transparent).  Multi-media teams will be established for major facilities in the state to evaluate the challenges more holistically and to move towards a one-stop shop/single point of contact model.

  • As part of the coordination of Natural Resource functions, develop a single unit for land acquisition, facility planning/development and land preservation that will support all Natural Resources programs (Parks, Fish & Wildlife, Soil & Water) with a specific charge to maximize leveraging opportunities with limited funds and advancing strategic projects that align with key departmental priorities.  Further, we will initiate a Natural Resource-wide effort to coordinate ecological restoration, species/habitat protection, and wetland protection across the state.

  • Engage a strategic discussion of the mission and structure of the Division of Soil and Water Conservation that is focused on the management and ecological restoration of Delaware’s watersheds/waterways with a renewed focus on improving water quality, reducing non-point source pollution, protecting our water supply, and conveying water in the most ecologically responsible way (i.e. Whole Basin approach). The Watershed Assessment section housed in the Division of Water Resources and our partners in the Conservation Districts will play a critical role in this effort.

  • Establish new operating units focused upon energy and climate. An enhanced Energy Policy and Programs section will encompass the current energy office while expanding our capacity in shaping  state, regional and national energy policy and programs, including a dedicated support group for the new Sustainable Energy Utility. Similarly, establish a unit focused on Climate change mitigation and adaptation and Coastal policy that blends the existing talents within Delaware Coastal Programs, National Estuary Program and Department Planning Offices.  While these units will function much like a division, the Office of the Secretary will serve as their temporary home until they are incubated sufficiently to stand on their own.

  • Begin consolidation of the various financial management and support functions across the Department with the goal of reducing overhead costs by up to 30% over the next couple years through current vacancies and future attrition and shifting those resources to the programs.

  • Initiate planning for the support of a broader array of creative financial incentives and mechanisms that will maximize the leveraging opportunities from existing funding streams for clean water, drinking water, and brownfields efforts and builds upon recent successful efforts to improve leveraging of resources across multiple programs.

  • Establish Department-wide accountability and performance management systems/processes that will provide actionable data that will help us better manage and proactively adjust processes /programs for more effective and efficient use of resources.

Over the next 12 -18 months:

  • Evaluate synergies and efficiencies to be gained by combining programs with similar missions. For example, does it make sense to evaluate combining District Operations and Drainage Programs as part of a modernized Soil & Water/Watershed Management section; or integrating Stormwater, Dam Safety and Surface Water Discharge regulatory programs into part of a enhanced Water Resources section?  These and other potential opportunities will be evaluated carefully.

  • Establish a unit that focuses on community services across the new Division of Environmental Protection to improve coordination and collaboration among the efforts of the various program ombudsmen, community organizations, enforcement, and other partners in environmental public  health protection.

  • Strengthen the scientific capacity and public health focus of the department. Broaden the mission of the environmental laboratory to include air/waste management and strengthen business management of operations. Establish an Environmental Public Health Advisor in addition to existing Science Advisor for environmental protection programs. The position will lead greater integration of public health considerations into our programs and serve as the primary liaison with DHSS/DPH.

  • Prepare for the potential transfer of the state drinking water program from Division of Public Health to Water Resources/Environmental Protection.

  • Evaluate opportunities to unify leadership of the various enforcement operations to strengthen cross training and career development opportunities among Park Rangers, Fish and Wildlife Agents and Environmental Protection Officers.

  • Reduce the size of the Office of the Secretary over 50% through attrition, reassignment of positions back into divisions, and initiation of the transfer of staff and support responsibilities for information technology to DTI.  

DNREC is a great department and more importantly a family of dedicated and passionate people. I don’t believe our structure has kept up with the talent of our staff, nor the interconnected challenges we face. Many of you have shared great ideas over the past few months. They have invaluable to me in learning about the department, formulating the design of the transformation for DNREC, and finalizing our proposal to the Governor for organizational changes. I hope that you see the majority of the ideas you shared embodied in the thoughts above.  This is just a preliminary step.  Over the coming months and years, it’s going to take all of us working together to create the DNREC that we all know if possible—breaking down silos, reaching across divisions, improving communications, leveraging resources, and working smarter (not necessarily harder). I want to empower you to make the changes that are necessary to creating a sustainable environment for future generations. 

It’s the strength of the individual commitments from every member of the DNREC family that keeps the Department afloat. I hope you will join me and take some time over the next few days to celebrate all of our successes over the past year and the privilege it is to work with our fellow employees. Happy Thanksgiving!

All the best to you and your family,

Collin

 

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