Government should be more efficient and responsive. But the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's misguided plan to reward employees with hefty bonuses based on how quickly they review development permits is a recipe for shortchanging the agency's primary mission of protecting natural resources. A legislative committee went along with DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard's scheme last week, but that doesn't mean it's right.
The bonus plan is the latest of Vinyard's efforts at remaking an agency, but not necessarily in the name of better environmental protection. Several of the 58 employees who were laid off in the past six months have complained the agency is capitulating to industry, risking long-term damage. Now Vinyard has approval from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission to take $8.8 million in supposed savings to dole out bonuses as high as $5,000 to individual workers who reduced the time it took to review development permits.
In doing so, Vinyard sends a strong message that he values speed over accuracy and the permit applicant over the state's water sources, green space and wildlife habitat. He seems to forget that DEP's primary constituency is not developers but 19 million Floridians who deserve a permitting process that is thoughtful, fair and weighs the cost to the environment. When it comes to protecting Florida's environment, the brake is just as important as the gas pedal.