Inside NJDEP: Agency Releases “Transformation Plan,” Posts Employee Complaints and Suggestions

How can the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) be improved? The agency released two different perspectives on that question over the past few weeks: a “top-down” view in the form of a “Transformation Plan” for reforming NJDEP, and a “bottom-up” view in the form of a compilation of hundreds of complaints and suggestions from NJDEP employees.

The NJDEP Transformation Plan released on October 7 announces the agency’s commitment to “making fundamental changes in how we function and in how we think about what we do daily.” Drawing on NJDEP’s new Vision Statement and a set of agency-wide priorities established by Commissioner Bob Martin, the Transformation Plan sets forth an ambitious program for changing both how NJDEP does its job — changing its “business processes,” in the words of the plan — and the substance of its policies. Underlying all three documents is a belief that environmental protection and economic growth can and must go hand in hand. Indeed, among the four “mission critical” priorities for NJDEP, the Transformation Plan lists “[s]upporting economic development of the State’s economy.”

Less sweeping in its verbiage but equally revealing about the agency is a set of over 700 complaints and suggestions from NJDEP employees released on October 14. The compilation, arranged by program area, ranges from the mundane (problems with telephones) to the far-reaching (frustration with enforcement policies). The survey provides an interesting glimpse into the internal workings of NJDEP at the staff level, where any agency-wide transformation would have to take root. The administration’s decision to make the compilation public may be an effort to show the public that support for changing NJDEP is not limited to management or political appointees but is shared by the rank and file.

Complaints, both internal and external, about how NJDEP operates, as well as promises from incoming administrations to remake the agency, have been part of the landscape at NJDEP practically since its creation in 1970. And large bureaucracies can be very difficult to change, never mind “transform.” But Commissioner Martin has made it clear that he is not interested in “business as usual: at NJDEP. All segments of the public will be watching his efforts with interest.

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