Almost a decade of sharp cuts have forced the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to reevaluate the way it operates.  From a zenith of 1,200 full-time employees and a $65 million annual budget in 2002, DEP’s resources presently stand at 840 employees and a budget of $46 million.  Accordingly, DEP has launched what it euphemistically refers to as a “Regulatory Reform Initiative” to accomplish three things: 1) upgrade its information technology to increase automation and operational effectiveness; 2) restructure its organization to maximize efficiency; and 3) identify regulatory approaches to streamline its processes and procedures. 

To its credit, DEP has looked outside the Department to external stakeholders – including the regulated community – for reform ideas, and has examined similar reform initiatives in other states.  For instance, DEP has considered expanding its use of general permits, permits by rule, self certifications, and – taking a page from the Massachusetts privatized waste-site cleanup program – third-party oversight.  Such outside oversight has been suggested in the Underground Storage Program and the Environmental Results Program, and would allow a regulated entity to contract directly with a certified third-party vendor to assist with compliance and auditing.  Another proposed change – suggested by my Rackemann Strategic Consulting colleague Steve Davis, who’s part of a working group created to guide the reform initiative – is the elimination of dual DEP review of reuse or change in use at abandoned or closed landfills.  Steve has proposed that such review be assigned exclusively to the Bureau of Waste Site Cleanup (BWSC) instead of the dual review now performed by BWSC and the Department’s Solid Waste program. 

Let’s face it, all agencies go through sporadic exercises in regulatory reform, but few of those efforts are far-reaching enough to qualify as true reform.  In this case, however, cold, hard numbers suggest that DEP needs to be be serious in order to continue fulfilling its mission.  The Department plans to study a subset of the suggested reforms in more detail later this year, with an eye toward full implementation in 2012.