A couple of weeks ago, another 20+ year veteran of state government service quit due to concerns about how the new administration was handling her department. Susan Wilson, a regional regulator for the Department of Energy and Natural Resources, was not the highest profile employee to quit state government after decades of service recently, what did make people stand up and take notice was the scathing resignation letter she sent to DENR Secretary John Skvarla. In it she blasted DENR for its removal of long-time colleagues, who she saw as fair minded, as well as raising questions over what she saw as the dismantling of the state’s Water Quality division. Well, two weeks later Secretary Skvarla responded to Wilson’s criticisms and frankly after reading his response I understand her concerns, and I have to wonder if Mr. Skvarla understands how the role of a regulator is actually supposed to work.
In her letter Ms Wilson stated that she had “a bit of mistrust for both sides of the aisle” which I think is a pretty healthy attitude for a regulator. When it comes down to it, business answers to its bottom line, and the environmental movement, no matter how well meaning, has been known to occasionally inflate their claims, so a regulator should bring a healthy bit of skepticism to the job in order to make the best decisions for the health and safety of the public. Mr Skvarla, however, seems to disagree, starting his letter saying that if she thought a level of distrust made her a better regulator then good riddance to her. He goes on to say that he believes that most people will do the right thing eventually. Well, I’m sorry Mr Skvarla, but if that was true, we wouldn’t need regulators. I suppose that the Secretary believes that police officers should take the suspected drunk driver’s word for it when he says he hasn’t had anything to drink, or that health inspectors should just hand out 100% ratings to restaurants without checking cleanliness, temperatures, or expiration dates.
Secretary Skvarla goes on to mention the need for customer service in the department, and those regulated by the department as ‘customers’ or ‘consumers’ six times in two paragraphs. By comparison he mentions the environment only once. Well Mr Skvarla, if this is what you truly believe, maybe you’re the one who should be resigning, because while good relationships between regulators and regulatees are important, if you’re spending all of your energy on customer service, you’re not actually doing your job.