The Department of Environmental Protection has a technology problem.
Secretary John Quigley told Senate lawmakers the department leases warehouses just to store paper because the department doesn’t have adequate electronic filing systems. In some regional offices, internet speed is so slow, upwards of an hour of work is wasted because a webpage takes too long to load.
One state senator said he heard the sound of a dial-up modem in the background during a conference call with regional DEP staff.
Quigley, during his department’s annual budget hearing, said that in 2004 DEP was judged “best in state government” by the Office of Administration for information technology. But state funding for technology improvements hasn’t kept pace since 2004, he said, and an outside consultant has rated DEP’s information technology “at best, a D-minus.”
DEP is forced to send staff into the field with clipboards and carbon-less forms.
“We have inadequate systems and so we continue to rely heavily on paper,” Quigley said. “We still process paper checks, folks have to submit paper applications to the agency.”
He said regional and satellite offices are plagued by poor internet speeds.
Sen. Scott Wagner, R-York, bluntly asked “Have you slapped your provider around?” He then said he’d “be happy to slap them around.”
“I’m with you, senator,” Quigley said.
The department identified several efficiency measures that could improve the technology issues that impact DEP, Quigley said. They include enhancing mobile capacity within the agency (Quigley said they weren’t allowed to download mobile applications, like geolocation apps that could help with field work), improving bandwidth, and replacing clipboards with iPads. He said the plan to disband with clipboards will begin in 2016 with the oil and gas management office.
Wolf’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2016-17 would boost DEP’s environmental support services information technology program by $2 million to replace the current eFacts system and enhance mobile capacity.
Quigley stressed improvements to electronic document management programs is necessary.
“We are drowning in paper,” Quigley said. He aims to “get out of paper” in three years.
Wagner, asking Quigley to lay out the savings in real dollar amounts, said: “Show me the money.”
Quigley also brought up what has been a perennial issue with DEP operations: staffing levels.
He said the governor’s budget is “bare bones” as far as operations, covering the cost-to-carry spending.
But he said the department continues to lag behind in staffing.
“I will tell you, when it comes to my agency, additional cuts will be ruinous not only to the agency but also the regulated community,” Quigley said. “We don’t have the service levels the governor wants for the regulated community, and some of it, there’s no getting around it, requires us to have additional staff.”
Problems with turn-around time for permits is due to inadequate staff levels, he said, but also noted the industry is partially to blame for turning in deficient permit applications, which slows the process down.
“DEP must do better, but the regulated community must do better as well,” he said. “It takes two to tango when it comes to permitting.”