[Date Prev][Date Next][Date Index]
E-M:/ Quote from PEER survey
Enviro-Mich message from Billy Stern <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
2000 PEER Survey of Wisconsin's
Department of Natural Resources
POLITICAL INFLUENCE -2-
From Governor Thompson -2-
From the Wisconsin State Legislature -5-
From Big Business -6-
"Politics" in general -7-
AGENCY REORGANIZATION -8-
POOR LEADERSHIP -10-
LACK OF PUBLIC SUPPORT -11-
COMMENTS ABOUT PEER/SURVEY -11-
MISCELLANEOUS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . -12-
POLITICAL INFLUENCE (457 responses)
From Governor Thompson (220 responses) . . .
"Governor Tommy Thompson. Big business now runs the WI DNR. Our
governor has done tremendous damage to Wisconsin's reputation as an
environmental leader. We absolutely need to have the Secretary
appointed by the Natural Resources Board and the re-establishment of
the Public Intervener's Office."
"I know that the administration and the Governor will influence the
decisions concerning law enforcement for political cronies. The DNR
administration does not care about the field people, but only for
themselves and those they 'like.' The DNR has sunk to a low point in
my respect for them. I have over 30 years experience with the DNR
and I have never seen so much in the way of politics going on as I do
"Governor 'Toxic Tommy' Thompson. Gov. Thompson has a long resume of
opposing efforts to clean up and protect the environment except when
there is political benefit to him personally. He supported several
land acquisitions recently--these are high profile situations that
made him look good. However, there have been numerous situations
where he has done things to minimize the effectiveness of the DNR and
environmental protection in general. Examples are mandating the
reorganization of the DNR (boondoggle), abolishing the Public
Intervener's Office, making the DNR Secretary a political appointee,
using the line-item veto to decrease or delete DNR funding measures
in the state budget, and blocking renewal of adequate funding for the
state's recycling program."
"In terms of corruption I have witnesses and asked to be a party to
the manufacture of numbers for the governor's campaign. Not only
should we not be asked to do his campaign work, but certainly not to
invent #s to support him!"
"Tommy Thompson and his introduction of Illinois-Louisiana style
politics into the state of Wisconsin. Nobody at DNR complains too
loudly because things are much worse at other agencies and could (and
probably will) get worse here if George Meyer and other
administrators who came up through the agency are replaced with
'purely' political Thompson lackeys. The DNR board appointment of
the DNR Sec. Would not be a great improvement because Thompson has
been in so long that the board is rotten with Thompson politics."
"In my opinion, the biggest problem facing the DNR is that the
Governor appoints the Secretary. Because he does, there is no
insulation from the department from the direct pressure that can be
placed on the agency from outside interests, particularly the larger
ones. Those interests have direct contact and influence with the
Governor through financial support they may offer for re election or
other political agendas. If you do not walk in step with the
political agenda your job is in jeopardy. George Meyer is a good
man, however, where he gets his marching orders ifs very clear. I
think he does deserve some credit for trying to walk a tightrope in
his attempt to appear somewhat distant from his boss."
"The administrators that have been "appointed" to their positions due
to their support of the governor. Many of these "political
appointees" have inadequate (or zero) experience in the fields they
oversee. Case-in-point: Dave Meier; heads the Bureau of Integrated
Science Services (ISS). He's a lawyer; if he has any math or science
training he sure has never demonstrated it. Also, he lets the paper
companies "edit" the DNR's annual Toxic Release Inventory Report, was
instrumental in killing a potential partnership between the DNR and
the League of Women Voters in Wisconsin Rapids that was to distribute
to the public the info about toxics and their sources (ie., mostly
CPI et. al.)"
"Governor Thompson's corruption of the office of DNR Secretary by
making it a political appointment. The Governor already has complete
control over the DNR board and now has completed his power grab by
making the Secretary's position an appointed one."
"The biggest problem is to 'free George Meyer' by letting the Natural
Resources Board appoint the Secretary and restoring the Public
Intervener's Office. This will give George Meyer all his 'teeth'
back. He will then be an excellent Secretary. He has all the
abilities, we just need to turn him loose."
"The governor's influence over the agency which precipitates
politically biased decision making at all levels and from many
directions. I have personally had scientific and statutorily correct
decision overturned by upper administration due to political ties to
the Governor and DNR's Division of Enforcement Administrator (who was
personally appointed by the Governor)."
"Tommy Thompson. The Governor's influence runs way too deep. Having
his close associate/friend as head of Law Enforcement for DNR and
seeing the immediate and dramatic drop in the number of cases brought
against violators right after Dave Meier took that position makes the
influence of politics seem very obvious."
"I grew up in Michigan and chose to work for the Wisconsin DNR 25
years ago because it was and has been one of the best environmental
agencies in the US. That is changing now, negatively. Governor
Thompson is very shrewd and makes far-reaching decision out of the
public eye and with his extreme budget veto power, often completely
reversing legislative intent."
"Shift to a customer-friendly' approach which has given industry and
politically connected individuals undue influence, leading to
comments such as 'if you won't approve this, I'll just contact the
Governor & have him direct the department to approve it' by members
of the regulated community. The agency is moving away from its
legislatively-mandated role as guardian of the environment to a
position of acting as a shill for some industries."
"Tommy Thompson has been governor of Wisconsin for almost 16 years,
and the state has become his fiefdom. The DNR cannot escape the
political influence of the current administration because it is so
far-reaching. While DNR Administration may not consciously make
decisions based on politics, you can be sure that if DNR makes a
decision that the Governor or one of his pals doesn't like, it will
be well scrutinized."
"Meetings have been held in individuals' homes, in the Governor's
office and other location s to discuss permit applications for
projects where the final decision to approve or deny should be made
at the field staff level. Sometimes the field person reviewing the
application would be part of the final decision.
"The Governor's obvious aversion to the DNR's mission and its
authority. In my experience, WI water law are in serious jeopardy of
being changed to accommodate the political pressures of industry and
big business in WI in lieu of supporting DNR's mission."
"The favoritism towards influential companies/particularly those who
have contributed to Gov. Thompson's campaign. Administration has
allowed minimal enforcement to occur, but they prevent referral to
Department of Justice. Also, Republican lobbyists have undue
influence on rule-making advisory committees."
"Undue influence of the Governor's office to benefit his
friends--state budget and services in this state are for sale if you
have the money, i.e. the Ashley Furniture deal!"
"This administration has undermined and marginalized the DNR, favored
development and road building over the environment, and has
successfully demoralized the staff at DNR. George Meyer is a victim
in this power-play, but has not been smart enough to focus on the few
things that DNR can do to better protect the public interest in
natural resource policy."
"The Governor built a major, unneeded hatchery and named it for
himself. In the process wetlands were filled, waste water permitting
not followed, and forest areas not meant to be cut for 50 yrs. were
'clear cut' and paved."
"The governor is so supportive of business that the DNR is not
allowed to deny easements and permits."
"The fact that (DNR Secretary) Meyer is under the Governor who puts
his own interest ahead of the environment (see the Crandon Mine
issue). Dave Meier is now the head of the Law Enforcement Division
and has NO Experience with either law enforcement or natural resource
issues--he is just a flunky of Thompson's. The vast majority of DNR
people are excellent, but the longer the Governor appoints the
Secretary, the poorer the protection of the resource will be and the
morale of the good workers will drop. Thompson cronies replacing
people who have earned key positions will eventually emasculate the
"A Governor-appointed Secretary. There is too much political
influence with a Secretary and a board all appointed by the Governor.
I have seen good legislation vetoed this biennium (good for the
environment) without as much as a squeak from our Secretary."
"Governor has too much power over DNR's management of resources."
"Having the Secretary serve at the whim of the Governor. I feel Sec.
Meyer is doing a good job, given his precarious tenure, and have the
utmost respect for him. If he has to compromise to remain in his
position, it still allows him to 'protect the environment' to some
degree. There is a concern in WI that any replacement would be more
in-step with the Governor's 'business first' approach."
"Gov. Tommy Thompson. He is really in control. Geo. Meyer has done a
good job at what he has been allowed to do. DNR is still short of
adequate funding. Our personnel are some of the lowest paid state
employees in the nation and there are not sufficient personnel to do
all the work required. Surveys are cut back and ultimately it is the
public who are punished because the state (Thompson and Republican
Legislators) will not adequately fund the DNR or compensate the
employees. I know of several top employees who left DNR for greener
pastures (money). This trend is not going to cease any time soon."
"What the political process does to program integrity. There is
little doubt that the DNR no longer conducts business like it once
did when the Secretary was accountable to an independent Board. We
all know what pressures the Secretary must be under as he serves at
the pleasure of our Governor."
"A conservative Governor intimidating the whole agency his 12 years
in office means that the Natural Resources Board is a group of his
campaign contributors and not an environmentalist among them."
"The Governor of Wisconsin who wields non-scientific influence over
the actions of DNR. * The Governor told co-workers and a division
administrator not to release a mining EIS before the last
gubernatorial election, for fear it could cost him votes. (EIS was
not complete before then, it turned out). * Fear of criticism by DNR
staff of the Dept. Of Transportation 20-year road-building plan,
which in turn threatens the profits of highway builders/ Governor's
campaign contributors, led the DNR Secretary to remove a co-worker
from his duties performing environmental impact reviews of highway
plans. This event occurred this past week. (12/16). Political
influence at its worst!"
"It makes me cringe every time I see our Gov. Say how proud he is of
Wisconsin's natural beauty & that's what makes us unique--by having
such a beautiful, pristine & clean state. And then he turns around
and cuts our already limited budget."
"Agency staff does not believe George Meyer would ever oppose the
Governor, and does not believe that George Meyer can successfully
guide us into the future. We are dead in the water as an agency-
exactly where the Governor and his business supporters want us."
From the Wisconsin State Legislature (40 responses). . .
"Environmental protection in Wisconsin is being increasingly hampered
by legislative action that inserts parochial exceptions to
environmental law in the budget bill. The budget should be the
budget only. It should not be used to exempt politically-connected
people from following the laws that everyone else has to follow."
"Wis. Citizens still think the DNR is protecting their interest.
Citizens do not realize how political the DNR has become and that DNR
policy may not be protecting them or the state's resources because of
special interest influence through the Gov. Office and the
"Legislative approval of illegal activities regarding wetlands is
just the beginning of a major breakdown in our ability to carry out
our mandates. In order to be effective, we need total separation and
isolation from the political arena."
"Lawmakers who put business and road building ahead of protecting the
environment! Recent example is legislature's including in budget
bill exemptions that will allow companies to expand in wetlands, over
DNR objections. And these exemptions were pushed by Democrats--the
environment's so-called friends!"
"Legislation which attempts to usurp DNR's enforcement authority. In
riders attached to budget bills certain legislators attempt to
circumvent the public process. In certain cases, DNR has acted
responsibly to deny permit or enforce a regulation--only to have
legislation passed which overturns DNR's decision on these matters."
"The legislature has eliminated positions or reduced funding of
programs at the DNR they disagree with. The elimination of the Lower
Wisconsin Riverway coordinator is the best example of this.
Eliminating that position was a clear act of retribution by a member
of the state Senate."
"Legislative meddling beyond passing laws i.e: legislators, or more
often their aides, contacting field level staff and berating them or
asking for exemptions/variances from environmental requirements.
Legislative interferences extends deep into the agency down to its
lowest level. This rarely happened prior to cabinet government .
Many believe our Secretary--who micro manages field staff yet claims
we are 'empowered'--has by his actions encouraged this legislator
meddling and obstruction of laws."
"One local state legislator calls up enforcement personnel and
summons them to meetings where he tells them what properties they can
go on, how they can do searches, and how they are to do
"The Wisconsin State Legislature. They have created chaos in our
agency. They have set us up to fail by not providing us with
adequate funding. They have given our programs to other agencies.
They are swayed by the petroleum marketers of Wisconsin. They
require us to go around the groundwater laws, rather than lowering
the standards themselves. That way, the public thinks its all our
fault. They have pitted our agency against the Dept. of Commerce by
splitting the environmental quality programs in both agencies."
From Big Business (62 responses). . .
DNR is not working for the citizens of Wisconsin--it is working for
industry. We are even told that our industrial contacts are our
"I have seen project after project thwarted, denied, ignored because
of monied 'interests.' Citizens never get the attention that the
paper industry and road-builders do. In some cases we are required
to get businesses involved in decisions where the public is ignored.
Permitting decisions/rules are based on industrial management
practices, not the public's or the environment's health."
"Political considerations and job relocation threats by polluters
often outweigh environmental concerns. The secretary says he has
never vetoed a referral to DOJ for enforcement. He is correct. The
next level of management below the secretary has that job."
"The department over-regulates petty matters and small customers
while at the same time ignores large scale environmental pollution
and public health risks such as the PCB contamination of the Fox
Sheboygen and Menitowoc Rivers. Department managers and
administrators lack the courage and skill to make large polluters
clean up the largest and highest risk sites in the state."
"Administration seems to have this desire to turn the agency into
some sort of a department store, where we have to please the
regulated community and where 'the customer is always right."
Administration in the southeast region lacks the assertiveness to
flat-out tell a regulated entity 'NO.' I have personally been
involved in situations where 'good customer service' has gotten in
the way of making a good decision based on good data and science."
"There is a lot of talk from management about serving the needs of
our 'customers.' These customers always seem by implication to be
mining companies, utilities and big agriculture interests (such as
cranberry growers) rather than the man or woman on the street or (God
forbid) the Sierra Club or Audubon Society. Particularly outrageous
and galling is the DNR's deferential treatment of the application for
the Crandon Mining permit, and its dishonest, biased pro-mining
interpretation of the new mining moratorium law."
"Politics" in general (135 responses). . .
"Many of us Old Timers (20-30 years of staff) probably wouldn't hire
on with today's DNR because when we hired on our mission was to serve
the general public and the resources, not the politically
influential. Simple math proves the inefficiency of serving the
public one at a time vs. collectively."
"The majority of the public in this state still has the perception
that we are very strict on environmental regulations. This charade
is a very dangerous game to play for staff as the supervisor will
never put it in writing that you can not go after a particular
facility. And when there si public outcry the supervisor blames the
staff. Fifteen years ago I would never have thought that I would
have ever seen this type of corporate ruthlessness in state
government. Id don't think we can be so arrogant to say we wear the
white hats anymore."
"The official letterhead 'footer' says it all- 'quality natural
resource management though excellent customer service.'
Unfortunately, because of economic/political influences, this leads
to short changing our most important 'customer,' the environmental
"I've seen many enforcement cases dropped or ordered to take no
action due to political pressure."
"Political pressure put on staff to let some things slide. The
biggest issue which needs to be followed up on the WDNR review of the
Crandon Mine proposal. There is a lot of political pressure to
approve this project no matter what."
"Political influence and bowing to the changing winds of the day.
Good scientific studies with adequate professional peer review are
lacking. To sum up my frustration, I will quote you a statement made
by my superior: 'We don't do science at the DNR.'"
AGENCY REORGANIZATION (293 responses)
"George's Reorganization has been the biggest cause of the DNR's
decline over the past 5 years. We're supposed to be more effective
and efficient, but the new management style of making decisions by
team consensus has also paralyzed the agency. . . Applicants for
permits may as well be asked if they want 'French Fries with their
approvals' because nothing is ever denied. Working here now is
barely tolerable and I'm ashamed to tell anybody that I do. By the
way, I'm a manager with 23 years of experience."
"The reorganization is also a joke. Once a model agency for the
country, we are now seen as merely average in all areas. Morale is
terrible and this department to many is now nothing more than a job
for a paycheck. I could go on, but it's all been said before and
been buried away. I hope we will be like the phoenix and someday
rise from the ashes."
"We speculate that this was the plan: To rid the agency of the very
folks who knew the laws, knew the history of the programs, knew how
to get things done, and hire a bunch (although far fewer) of college
kids who had no idea why things were done the way they were. . .What
I also hear is that the DNR Administration (was forced to?) gutted
the agency to remove our 'power' against the polluters. And when
good, hard working people think that's the case, they leave. Which
is just what happened."
"The department is now in a state of disorganization. Programs are
being supervised by individuals (basin leaders) with no knowledge of
the program. Integrated basin teams might look like a good idea on
paper or to the uniformed public. In reality, it creates many more
problems than it solves. If programs are excelling, it is in spite
of reorg, not because of it."
"After the reorganization, which I believe was done for purely
political reasons, efficiency dropped. People are now attending
meetings that have nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with their
program. Let's become a better organization by working within our
individual programs so we can better relate to what other programs
may ask of us."
"As a direct result of reorganization, in many cases agency
departments are managed/supervised by uninterested, uninformed, and
inexperienced managers who have little or no knowledge of an
employee's job duties.
"Reorganization has done exactly what our Governor wanted--cripple
the DNR, hire spineless mgmt., and let the staff/field workers take
the fall. Northeast and Southeast region have the worst
mgmt.--especially in the water & waste programs. We are even told,
as field staff, that businesses are our customers and we need to
please them and kept them happy."
"The reorganization of DNR has affected the field officers in a
negative way. Though we are again getting back to normal, I believe
that there has been a net loss of filed staff through the
reorganization process. It has made it tougher for existing field
staff to service public needs and requests."
"The 'reorg' was soundly criticized by staff though results of a
survey were never released. The reorg could have been done to
improve the agency, but the result was poor (governor's) choices for
top admin staff, the continuation of problem programs, and a
messed-up water regulation program. The water program is our front
line on shore land & wetland protection and due to reorg the
effectiveness has been decimated. I'll bet 70% of that program quit
(took other jobs) after reorg."
"DNR reorganization was sold to the public as a slimming down of
middle management to put more people in the field. The opposite has
happened. AS a field manager I cover more than twice my old duties
while middle managers with no expertise in my filed go to meetings
and don't help filed staff. The Governor's office has destroyed the
integrity and morale of arguable the best conservation outfit in the
nation. Reorganization according to the Grant-Thornton study was
never implemented because Secretary Meyer did not force moves and
changed things the was it was suggested. We spend $250,000 but
didn't take their advice!"
"If we set up an organization like this in the private sector, the
company would be bankrupt and the CEO fired!"
STAFFING/FUNDING (230 responses)
"The lack of adequate staffing and monetary resources as limited by
our Governor. There is a real abuse of people in the Limited Term
Employee (LTE) system. Necessary, permanent positions, instead of
being properly identified as such, and filled, are instead called LTE
positions. We then hire people for low pay and no benefits to take
major responsibilities. This system is immoral, and because of high
turnover, really is stealing from the public, and misleading the
public about the effectiveness of our management of natural
resources! The majority of staff, managers and LTEs are competent
and do their best, but we have no control over this LTE system and
"The Misuse and Abuse of LTE's cannot go on. In our shp a Full Time
Custodian Position was lost to a Privatized Janitorial Service that
did not work out. For the past Three Years this position has been
filled with an LTE with no chance of a Permanent Position. This LTE
has had her pay cut and has lost work time due to DNR snafus."
"Three or four years ago, DNR staff was cut by 10%, yet we have more
regulations to impalement than ever before."
"Woefully insufficient # of staff positions committed to civil and
criminal environmental enforcement programs. At present, there are
(approx) 15 FTE environmental enforcement positions statewide
dedicated to issuing Notices of Violation, Admin Orders, or referring
cases to Dept. of Justice for litigation/prosecution. There are 7
FTE environmental warden positions statewide to conduct complex
POOR LEADERSHIP (118 responses)
"Although the political pressure is, indeed, great, DNR management
itself is shooting staff down whether or not there is political
pressure. Retaliation is a major, major concern. Staff who do
nothing are considered good employees. Thus, after suffering the
slings and arrows of management, and since staff is cannon fodder, I
am now the perfect employee because I now do nothing--no decisions,
write few memos or letters, and I haven't conducted an inspection in
two years. DNR is morally bankrupt."
"I have found that upper management will talk about what is the right
course of action, but when it comes to sticking their neck out they
don't even have the guts to correct their subordinates. Needless to
say for my own protection I keep two sets of records: the actual
documents and the edited ones."
"As an agency, we no longer are willing (or permitted?) to assert
that we are the guardians and managers of Wisconsin's natural
resources and that it is not our mission 'to make everyone happy.'
While there have been few 'defining moments' leading to resource
degradation or destruction under Sec. Meyer/Gov. Thompson's watch,
there has been a slow erosion of purpose and power to make
unpopular--but correct--decisions that in total has jeopardized our
"The lack of commitment by DNR managers, from George Meyer down to
the first line supervisors, to provide guidance, support, mentoring,
tools, encouragement, motivation, and compassion fro all DNR staff.
This lack of commitment to staff was not common during the Besadny
"The good news: more than half of DNR's supervisors and
administrators are competent! The bad news: too many are
LACK OF PUBLIC SUPPORT (31 responses)
"In the public's mind DNR is blamed for many many things not within
its control or responsibility. The legislature controls budgets and
writes all the rules. It's easy for local legislators to 'Blame it
on the DNR.'"
"Lack of ability to motivate the public to support us in our mission
to protect THEIR natural resources. So-called
environmental/conservation organizations fail to provide us with the
needed support as well. WE don't need them to agree with our
conservation efforts, we need them to have an impact at the capitol."
"Pubic opinion due to many people seeing the political influence of
the DNR, so that they don't like us."
"A public educated by news media is the same or worse than uneducated.
COMMENTS ABOUT PEER/SURVEY (44 responses)
Eight respondents expressed appreciation or thanked us for the survey:
"I am pleased that there are organizations such as PEER that serve as
watchdogs, otherwise things would be much worse.
Another 8 mentioned that Secretary Meyer sent out 3 Emails to DNR
staff, both encouraging them to reply to the survey, and asking them
to answer questions in a particular way:
"I find it strange that George felt he had to send out no less than 3
e-mails boasting about DNR accomplishments when he heard about this
survey. If the actions are good, they should speak for themselves.
His e-mails make me wonder why he is so worried."
Six respondents felt that the survey was biased or otherwise unscientific:
"You aren't a PEER Review. Your documents and the questionnaire look
more like an extreme environmentalist preplanned agenda to rip at
Five others felt that the survey itself or PEER in general was the
biggest problem facing the DNR.
Four people mentioned that our envelopes were too small.
Other responses include:
"This survey stands to show that there is something wrong with WDNR,
rather than why are things wrong with DNR. The cabinet structure is
what's wrong w/ DNR,. The undue legislative influence is what's
wrong w/ DNR. If PEER intends on pointing fingers, please point
them in the right direction."
(About space to put name on survey) "You must be kidding! And get fired?"
"What is this, a money-raising exercise? I resent this type of
thing. You sure have a captive audience to see your material."
"I would encourage future PEER surveys to try and gauge outside
influence on the system and less on DNR administration and its
enforcement of rules."
"The most telling statistic is not reflected in your survey. Look at
the number of people retiring at the earliest possible time. It may
be in part due to retirement incentives, but much of it is also due
to poor morale."
MISCELLANEOUS (77 responses)
There were some themes that were repeated, but not often enough to
warrant their own categories. Below were the most prevalent.
Balancing resource management and individual/business interests (x 12)
Loss of the Public Intervener's Office (x 8)
Retirement of experienced employees (x 6)
Need to separate Natural Resource and Environmental Quality into two
agencies (x 6)
Affirmative Action (x 6)
Keep up/improve technological systems (x 5)
Pollution (x 4)
Lack of Diversity (x 3)
Too much focus on hunting (x 3)
Not enough focus on hunting (x 2)
Need for sales tax increase (x 2)
ENVIRO-MICH: Internet List and Forum for Michigan Environmental
and Conservation Issues and Michigan-based Citizen Action. Archives at
Postings to: email@example.com For info, send email to
firstname.lastname@example.org with a one-line message body of "info enviro-mich"