New governor reverses Granholm move to merge DNR
On Jan. 4, 2011 — not even a full year since the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) had been established — newly-elected Gov. Rick Snyder signed his first executive order, demolishing the DNRE to create two separate departments: the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
With a few strokes of his pen, Snyder essentially reversed former Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s efforts to combine the two departments after her predecessor, former Gov. John Engler, split Michigan’s DNR into two separate agencies back in the mid-1990s.
In 1995, Engler issued an executive order to eliminate the DNR; create a new DNR to handle parks, recreation, hunting and wildlife issues; and create a new DEQ to handle environmental regulation and enforcement issues.
After 15 years as separate entities, Granholm succeeded in arranging a union of the two departments in an effort to cut costs and streamline state government.
However, Snyder decided to create separately functioning departments to allow each to better focus on its core mission.
“Michigan is blessed with an abundance of natural resources and we need to be a leader and innovator in protecting these resources,” Snyder said. “Recreational fishing, hunting and boating activities alone contribute more than $3 billion annually to our economy. Separating the DEQ and DNR means we can better address these key priorities.”
With Snyder’s executive order, the months spent last year working to merge the two departments became irrelevant.
Back when Granholm’s department consolidation executive order first took effect, officials felt it would take at least until late 2010 or even early 2011 for the two departments to completely transition into one cohesive unit.
At the time, Mary Dettloff, a DNRE public information officer, said, “This is not something that’s going to take place overnight. It’s taken us years to separate (the DNR and DEQ), so I expect it will take a while for us to merge back together.”
Brad Rasher, the transition manager appointed by Granholm to oversee the reconsolidation of the DNR and DEQ, also agreed with Dettloff’s assessment at the time.
“The reason why the transfer will take longer is because when we pull the various programs and activities of the department together it will be through a re-engineering process, which will involve teams of employees, and that will take time,” he said. “It’s a deliberate process that’s very thoughtful and can’t be done overnight.”
Granholm’s unified DNRE only remained in operation for a total of 420 days, which was hardly enough time for a complete transition from two departments into one.
“The agencies spent most of the past year figuring out what coming back together meant,” said DEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel. “There was a great deal of time spent planning the joining of the two agencies. We’ve only been officially together for 12 months.”
However, as far as breakups go, this one seems to be virtually painless.
ettloff has said the transition from one department back to two has been “seamless” — a sentiment echoed by Wurfel.
In fact, although Snyder’s order didn’t officially take effect until March 13, Dettloff said the departments have been essentially operating as separate agencies since Snyder signed his executive order during his first week in office.
There will also be no need for a transition manager this time, as the two departments will basically go back to where they were prior to the merger in 2010. All divisions previously operating under the DNR in December 2009 will remain under the DNR, while the same will apply to the divisions that were under the DEQ.
“(The transition) has gone fairly smoothly,” Wurfel said. “Most of what was joined previously was at the administrative level. Operationally, the field staff continued to do what they did before (the merger) for the most part.”
And in an effort to save money, the two departments will continue to share custody of the joined administrative functions — such as the accounting, procurement, and human resources departments.
“These would be the hardest ones for us to pull apart again,” Dettloff said. “So we will leave it as a shared thing and save money.”
Added Wurfel, “We found ways to coordinate services mostly on the administrative side to get some cost savings.”
Physically splitting up the two departments was fairly easy, as well, according to Dettloff.
“We only had to move a total of eight DNR employees out of Constitution Hall (where the DEQ staff remained) into the Mason Building just across the street,” she said.
Employees from each department have also seemed to take the separation in stride and are supportive of the maneuver.
“Operating independently is something I think folks are more accustomed to than operating as a single entity,” said Wurfel, who added that operating independently has been “welcomed” by most of the DEQ people he has talked to about the separation.
While Dettloff mentioned that it has been a “little stressful” being “put together and now taken apart,” she said the overall reaction of the DNR staff seems to be positive.
“The governor strongly feels that each agency has an important responsibility which each should be focusing on rather than being spread so thin,” she said. “And the DNR seems to be supportive of that.”
Dettloff also stated that splitting the DNRE won’t necessitate adding extra personnel.
“Between the two agencies, we lost 312 people to early retirement, and we only plan on hiring about one new employee for every two that retired, which is about 150 employees that will be split between the two departments,” she said. “And on the DNR side, Director (Rodney) Stokes has said he wants to fill positions in the field first rather than in Lansing because the budget is very dependent on restricted funds and user fees. We can’t spend any more money than we take in.”
About 4 percent of the DNR’s budget currently comes from the state’s General Fund.
In an effort to bring a more streamlined business management model to state government, Snyder has implemented group executives to oversee the executive departments within their respective groups. The agency and department directors will report to their respective group executive, who will then report directly to the governor.
The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, DNR, and DEQ all fall under the Quality of Life group, which is headed up by executive Dan Wyant, who also serves as the new DEQ director.
“All (agencies) within the group have kind of similar missions — all focus on natural resource-type of issues within different capacities that are all sort of connected. We’re trying to see where we have commonalities so we can try to leverage them into more efficient operations and savings,” Wurfel said.
Some ways the Quality of Life Division is looking to save money is by sharing some services, such as law enforcement staff, as well as web design and support.
Another way they are looking to cut costs is by having group training sessions as opposed to each department having their own schedules and contracts.
“A lot of these sorts of things are things that customers — the general public — don’t see,” Wurfel said. “But a huge part of government operation is administrative, so we are trying to review our administrations to find ways to create savings and find efficiency.”
Reporting to Wyant is Stokes, the new DNR director, while Keith Creagh is the new director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
“Dan, Keith and Rodney bring exceptional private and public sector experience to this new management model which will allow departments to function better and take successful practices from the private sector and put them to work in government,” Snyder stated in the public announcement on his website after announcing his choices in November.
Snyder appointed both the new DEQ director and the new DNR director.
When Engler initially split the DNR back in 1995, he had the authority to appoint the DEQ director, while the Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) retained the right to appoint the DNR director.
However, when Granholm merged the two departments, she made the single DNRE director a gubernatorial appointment, a move which angered some environmental groups even though they applauded the merger.
At the time, Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) and more than 90 other environmental groups sent a joint letter to Granholm, asking her to reconsider turning the NRC’s DNR director appointment authority into a political appointment by the state’s governor.
Granholm’s decision to make the DNRE director a gubernatorial appointee even spawned a piece of legislation from the state Senate seeking to block Granholm’s department consolidation plan. Although the state’s upper chamber passed the bill 22-15, the bill ultimately failed to be enacted.
While Granholm made some concessions — such as the new DNRE director had to consult with the NRC on policy matters, and one commissioner had to be a joint appointee to both the Commission on Agriculture and the NRC — she retained the right to appoint the DNRE director.
The MUCC was not satisfied.
“While (the MUCC) views the DNR/DEQ merger as a tremendous opportunity to improve natural resources management, making the director of the new DNRE a political appointment is a huge step backward,” a release from MUCC stated at the time. “Instead of having a bipartisan body in charge of appointing who oversees the management of our resources, this change will unfortunately place a political party in control, placing Michigan’s natural resources at the whim of election cycles. As such, MUCC will continue to work with the conservation coalition and state lawmakers in pursuing alternative remedies that take politics out of natural resources management.”
Yet, environmental groups seem to be much more easy going a year later, when Snyder not only decide to split the DNRE but also decided to retain the right to appoint both department directors.
Dettloff has said the DNR has not received any complaints so far.
“Gov. Snyder wanted to retain appointment authority as (the directors) are members of his cabinet and therefore ultimately accountable to him,” she said.
Instead of concerning themselves with who appoints the directors, the state’s environmental groups now seem to be more concerned that important work gets done.
“Clean Water Action believes Gov.-elect Snyder should do what he needs to do. Our hope is that regardless of the structure the job gets done,” said Michigan Director of Clean Water Action Cyndi Roper at the time of Snyder’s department division announcement. “We hope there are competent people in place to protect the lakes, rivers, and streams, as well as the air and people of Michigan from pollution.”
MUCC Executive Director Erin McDonough said she is excited to work with Wyant, Creagh, and Stokes.
“We are interested in working with (the new directors) and the new Quality of Life Division,” she said. “We are excited about the opportunity to move some of our programs forward and willing to work with these people. We encourage them to move towards more outcome-based planning — to strategically use the dollars received from hunting, fishing and trapping licenses to a more efficient and effective use for the health and quality of the environment.”