Employees' bonuses raise questions

State Department of Environmental Protection to give bonuses this summer


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Employees who speed up environmental permitting could be eligible for bonuses. The plan was approved by a legislative commission Friday, but environmentalists are crying foul.

Building a dock, a whole marina, or filling in wet lands all require permits from the State Department of Environmental Protection.

The agency now wants to give bonuses to one of every eight regulatory employees. The bonuses would be based on feedback from applicants and how fast permits are issued.

Environmentalists are crying foul.

"I mean really, we would like to see performance evaluated based on success and protecting our resources not just in speed," said Julie Waithmell, of Florida Audubon Society.

Those who do business with the agency say its focus has shifted to creating jobs at the expense of protecting the environment.

The worry is the bonuses will result in projects not getting the proper scrutiny and that those employees, who are doing a good job, will be seen as uncooperative.

Rep. Mark Pafford, D-Palm Beach, argues that speeding up permits won't be good for the state in the long run.

"And then when you basically change the DNA of an agency that's set up to protect the environment, you'd have serious problems," said Pafford.

A legislative panel signed off on the half-million dollar bonus plan Friday.

Deputy Secretary Jeff Littlejohn said the agency can still do its job without being an adversary.

"We haven't lowered any expectations at all, this is a difference in our approach," said Littlejohn. "We're working with Florida citizens and business and not trying to take an adversarial approach to either permitting or compliance."

The bonuses will be distributed in August. Employees are lined for the bonuses. They range from just under $1,000 to about $5,000.