A CRITICAL AUDIT OF DLNR PROMTS STRATEGIC PLAN, SUMMARY REPORT

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 (POSTED 10/31/05)

One of the first actions of Governor Linda Lingle was a hiring freeze. It wasn’t absolute. Executive departments could push paperwork through the Department of Budget and Finance, the fiscal overseers, and on to the governor’s office if they were determined enough. At the Department of Land and Natural Resources, though, administrator Peter Young was not particularly successful in breaking through the freeze. Whether it was a result of ineptitude, lack of perseverance, or zeal to go along with the governor’s belt-tightening drive, over the next year and a half Young presided over a steady diminishment of his department’s staff.

Among the divisions hardest hit was the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, the DLNR’s police force. By December 2003, of the 121 positions authorized for DOCARE, 16 were vacant. Six of those had been deliberately left vacant to save money. Gary Moniz, head of DOCARE, told Environment Hawai`i in late 2004 that he had been given the green light to start the long and involved process of civil service hiring for the remainder. That process was aborted mid-stream, however, when the 2004 Legislature made across-the-board cuts in DLNR staffing, with DOCARE’s authorized permanent staff cut to 107. If positions had been vacant for years, the legislators argued, then Young and his division chiefs really must not need them after all.

In 2005, Young pressed for restoration of many of the cuts. The Legislature obliged, giving DOCARE back 11 permanent positions. At the end of the first quarter of fiscal year 2005-2006, though, the number of vacant authorized positions at DOCARE was greater than ever, with 29 of the 118 permanent posts unfilled, including a dozen positions for enforcement officers.

It is against this backdrop that the legislative auditor, Marion Higa, and her staff conducted a management audit of DOCARE. As Higa explains, the resolution calling for the DOCARE audit grew out of several measures introduced during the 2005 Legislature calling for audits of the DLNR and several of its divisions. “After much testimony and debate, the Legislature focused on the department’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement.”

Lack of Capacity

DOCARE’s jurisdiction includes 1.3 million acres of state lands and beaches and some 750 miles of coastline. As of October 2005, the auditor found, DOCARE had 79 field supervisors or enforcement officers on regular patrol. Mastering the understatement, the auditor writes: “This is not enough to provide full coverage 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” of the areas that DOCARE should be policing.

Further harming the division’s ability to respond to threats to natural and cultural resources is the fact that officers are frequently assigned chores that are unrelated to their basic mission, which, the auditor says, “based on our review of Hawai`i law … is to protect the state’s natural and cultural resources.” Among those duties unrelated or only marginally related to DOCARE’s mission are:

•Marijuana eradication: according to the auditor, the Big Island DOCARE branch spent 3.7 work-years of effort on this project in fiscal 2004-05.

•Operation Safe Summer: designed to crack down on teenage drinking and drug use at state parks and small boat harbors on O`ahu, this 2005 program, initiated at the request of the lieutenant governor, ate up 2.2 work-years of effort.

•Crime-reduction unit: according to the auditor, the O`ahu DOCARE branch dedicated eight full-time officers to this work, performing undercover surveillance and attempting to break up illegal drug trafficking on state lands. “Again,” the auditor writes, “the work was necessary but detracted from accomplishing the division’s conservation enforcement mission.”

Even as DOCARE officers were shipped off to tasks unrelated to the agency’s primary mission, responsibilities related to the mission grew exponentially. “Since 1996, seven new resource areas were added by the department,” the auditor writes, five on the island of Hawai`i and two on Kaua`i. (The auditor cites the West Hawai`i Regional Fisheries Management Area as just one “resource area,” even though it has nine separate no-take zones and makes up 35 percent of the near-shore waters from Kohala to South Kona.)

The creation of a state marine refuge around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands vastly expanded DOCARE’s responsibilities, although the agency received no new resources and, indeed, “the enforcement division did not have boats big enough to patrol such a large area.”

“Growth of the enforcement division’s conservation enforcement workload – possibly by as much as 50 percent – along with a mission that has shifted away from protecting natural and cultural resources towards deterring illegal and criminal activity has caused the enforcement workforce to be spread too thin,” Higa writes. “Overall, we identified almost 19 work-years of effort expended performing missions only loosely connected with the division’s primary mission.”

Slackers

If DOCARE officers were performing at peak efficiency, they’d still be stretched thin. Yet the auditor found that not all officers were performing at that level. About one in four officers was “unproductive,” Higa found. Over a three-year period, just 16 officers carried the bulk of the workload, as measured by number of enforcement actions. These 16 accomplished 100 or more enforcement actions per year, compared to the average officer who accomplished 76 enforcement actions per year of work. At the opposite end of the performance spectrum are about 20 officers – a quarter of the enforcement staff – who averaged just 23 enforcement actions per year.

The worst offenders are on Kaua`i, where the auditor found that the average total number of enforcement actions per work-year over the last three years was just 25. By contrast, Maui saw 111 enforcement actions per work- year, Hawai`i 91, and O`ahu 67.

Such poor performance the auditor links to lack of supervision and clear direction. “Division leaders and branch chiefs do not evaluate productivity or hold subordinates accountable for specific levels of performance,” the auditor found. “Instead, they have rationalized unproductive behavior by blaming imperfections in performance measures. For example, the enforcement chief told us that a reduction in the number of arrests might be a sign that more users are complying with laws and rules. Although possible, after riding on patrol with officers on five different islands and observing numerous indications that violations had occurred, we do not think this is very probable. Another rationalization was that holding branch chiefs, field supervisors, or enforcement officers accountable for arrests or citations would amount to nothing more than a quota system.”

Et Cetera

The audit runs to some 60 pages, not including eight pages of detailed recommendations. Among other things, it points out poor record-keeping, lack of training, “dead spots” in the agency’s radio communications system, outdated reporting systems, and unavailable, inoperable, or inadequate equipment.

The most critical areas identified by the audit have nothing to do with equipment, manpower, or training, however. They relate instead to the overall lack of coordination of the agency’s work with the needs of DOCARE’s sister divisions – especially the divisions of Forestry and Wildlife, Aquatic Resources, Boating and Ocean Resources, and Land. In reporting on the agency’s performance in budget documents, the auditor notes, DOCARE cites the number of miles patrolled, arrests made, citations issued, hunter safety certifications made, and the like. Such performance measures are not to be confused with outcome-oriented goals and “do not say much about the department’s or the division’s overall program effectiveness.”

Instead, the auditor writes, “the enforcement division should share in the higher-level goals and objectives and performance measures related to the overall state goal to protect, restore, and enhance the environment. By doing so, the enforcement division will directly address the health of the natural resources and realign itself with its core conservation enforcement mission.”

The auditor’s very first recommendation speaks to this point: “The Department of Land and Natural Resources should … develop a strategic plan covering department-wide and cross-divisional issues.” The point is explained further in Appendix A, where the auditor states that at a minimum, the DLNR should “direct each division, commission, and office, including the enforcement division, to develop strategic plans conforming to the department’s strategic plan.” It is also advised to “evaluate the enforcement division’s mission.”

“In coordination with the administration, the Legislature, and the enforcement chief, the department should make policy decisions about whether expanded work that is loosely connected to its original conservation enforcement mission should be performed by the enforcement division or another state organization or a contractor.”

Peter Young Responds

The auditor’s report runs about 60 pages. The response of DLNR administrator Young is more than a third that length. And to the same degree that the auditor’s prose is Spartan and fact-filled, that of Young maybe best be described as florid and dilatory. The auditor herself says as much: “Perhaps as a diversionary tactic, the Department of Land and Natural Resources responded to our draft report with a lengthy reply that sidesteps many of the issues presented in the report and instead highlights department initiatives that often do not relate to issues raised.”

A link to Young’s response may be found on the DLNR’s home page (www.state/hi/us/dlnr), should anyone wish to check it out. One of his main objections is to the auditor’s claim that his department lacks a strategic plan. “Under the broad banner of the Department’s mission statement, each division’s strategic plan clearly identifies its goals as they relate to the respective division’s mission statement,” Young writes, adding that the plan is updated annually. “The most recent version of the DLNR’s strategic plan is posted on the DLNR’s website for review, comment, and support by the community at large.”

The auditor is openly skeptical of the plan: “During the audit, we asked the department for its strategic plan. Initially, none was provided. About two weeks later, the department delivered a collection of undated documents labeled ‘Strategic Plan.’ The documents appeared to be a compilation of various divisions’ goals, objectives, and performance measures similar to ones used previously for annual reports and budget testimony. The version of the strategic plan that is posed on the website appears to be more of the same. There is no indication that the department brought its division administrators together to take a fresh, strategic look at Hawai`i’s and the department’s future and address department-wide, cross-divisional, and divisional issues… Instead, the strategic plan appears to have been cobbled together in anticipation of our audit finding that none exists.”

That Strategic Plan

“Make Hawai`i a great place to live – for now and for the future.” You’ll not find this perky admonition in the state Constitution or any statute, yet it emerges as a bizarre mantra in the new DLNR strategic plan.

The “mission statement” for the strategic plan is no less peculiar. Where one might think it would be to carry out projects in the service of an overall objective directly linked to the DLNR’s statutory and constitutional purpose, it is instead to “seek, develop, and implement … strategies”!

As the auditor suggests, the strategic plan consists of a laundry list of goals, policies, and objectives submitted by each of the DLNR’s divisions. They vary in quality and level of detail, and show no evidence of having been developed as a component part of an overall DLNR strategy.

To cite one example – that of DOCARE – its top goal is “to protect human life, property, and the natural resources of the state.” Laudable, perhaps, but one could argue, especially in light of the auditor’s observations, that the agency has it backward – that the number one goal should be protection of the state’s natural resources, with protection of life and property being the bailiwick of other agencies.

DOCARE’s top-listed policy in support of that goal is: “To ensure the right of all persons to safely use, share, and enjoy Hawai`i’s natural resources through firm, fair and effective law enforcement.” Again, nothing in DOCARE’s authorizing statute says anything about protecting a “right” to “use, share, and enjoy” the state’s natural resources. To “actively enforce laws, rules, and regulations designed to protect and sustain Hawai`i’s unique fragile natural resources” takes second billing.

In the entire strategic plan, only one division – that of Boating and Ocean Recreation – makes specific reference to any establishing law in its statements of goals. In the case of the Office of Conservation and Coastal Lands, that omission is forgivable in light of the fact that it is a construct of the DLNR administrator and has never been officially broken out of the DLNR’s Land Division.

As to the Land Division itself, its top goal is simply to “improve fundamental management practices,” while the second-listed goal is to “maximize staff resources.” While no one would argue that good management does not play a vital part in reaching any goal, good management in itself is hardly a defensible strategic objective. As for the goal of maximizing staff resources, it is simply baffling – as a strategic objective or anything else.

By statute, the first order of business of the Board of Land and Natural Resources is to “maintain an accurate inventory of public lands,” and the Land Division is the agency to which this task has been assigned. For years, though, an “accurate inventory of public lands” has eluded the land managers at DLNR. Second on the statutory list is to prevent trespass and illegal activities on public lands. In fact, the statute (Section 171-7 of Hawai`i Revised Statutes) provides a detailed, thoughtful, and above all legitimate view of what should be the strategic objectives of the Land Division. Why did no one in this division (and most others, for that matter) think to look to the law for suggestions, if not out-and-out direction, in the development of its strategic plan?

The answer undoubtedly lies in the DLNR mission statement itself, which is about as vacuous and verbose as one can get, and completely untethered to any law, statute, or other governing authority: “Seek, develop and implement cost-effective strategies for the long-term sustainable management, maintenance protection and utilization of existing and potential ocean, land, natural and cultural resources of the State of Hawai`i in an integrated manner and in partnership with others from the public and private sectors. Today & Everyday – Reinforce Priority to Resources and working Together.” It’s motherhood and apple pie, with none of the calories or love.

A real strategic plan would, one might think, have involved the governing Board of Land and Natural Resources at some level and, equally important, members of the public, who, after all, own the resources entrusted to the agency’s care. That, however, awaits another day – and an administrator more open to ideas than this one.

Summary of Activities

Peter Young has also written a summary of activities, which, like the strategic plan, has been given pride of place on the DLNR’s website. The first page of both documents lists Young’s idea of his department’s mission. The remainder of the summary of activities is an inchoate jumble, to put it kindly.

Much of the 52-page report describes departmental priorities and approaches, which bear only passing resemblance to the priorities in the mission statement or strategic plan. For example, on page 14, Young writes that “fighting Invasive Species is our number one priority.” He then uses the statement to launch into a discussion of what he obviously regards as a high point of his leadership: removing salvinia from Lake Wilson.

“While we are disappointed that the prior administration took negligible sets [sic] to stop the spread of salvinia at Lake Wilson (that had covered the Lake’s surface by the time we took office,) it helped demonstrate the negative impacts invasive species have on our resources and the need to focus on them to protect our natural resources.”

And in case the reader missed that first reference, it is repeated on page 30: “In early 2003, salvinia molesta, an invasive freshwater fern that had been left unchecked by prior administrations, covered the entire 300-acre Lake Wilson, an irrigation reservoir on the island of Oahu.” What Young fails to tell readers that in the service of his desire to achieve a victory against Salvinia, he ordered DLNR personnel, from top-paid engineers and DOCARE enforcement officers down to secretaries and maintenance workers, to drop whatever they were doing and go pull weeds. Months later, many of them were still trying to catch up with the backlog in their regular duties.

At times, the report amuses, albeit unintentionally. For example, the Division of Aquatic Resources concluded that in response to “none fisheries management areas” established in West Hawai`i, “7 of 10 most heavily targeted aquarium fish species were found in greater numbers, proving their effectiveness.” Readers are told that DAR oversees “565-million acres in Fishery Conservation zone (200-mile limit,)” – a bewildering statement, given that there is no such thing as a fishery conservation zone and that, in any event, the state has no jurisdiction beyond three miles. (The figure of 565 million appears to be a conversion of the number of square miles in the federal Exclusive Economic Zone around Hawai`i into acres – an unusual and clumsy measurement for such an enormous expanse.)

Young omits significant milestones from his summary. He does not point out that he was on the bridge when the governor proposed (and the Legislature approved) unprecedented across-the-board cuts in the DLNR’s budget and staffing. He is silent on his push to commercialize unencumbered lands; rules that would have accomplished this were widely and noisily criticized when they were taken to public hearings. And he makes no mention at all of the DLNR’s financial situation, which, even after some of the worst cuts were restored, remains parlous.

Young touts the Water Commission’s Lalakea Alternative Mitigation Project (LAMP) as a highlight of the commission’s activities, but this is actually the result of an enforcement action, and a long-stalled one at that. He speaks of progress in updating the superannuated Hawai`i Water Plan, but at this late stage of the game, anything short of completing it should be reason to hang one’s head.

For the most part, the summary covers well-trod ground. But in one area, the report is the first time a major initiative of the department receives any public notice at all. Young notes that the state applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Plan, which “is designed to enroll 35,000 acres of cropland and marginal pastureland in 15-year CRP [sic] contracts over five-years.” The plan would pay farmers and ranchers to remove marginal land from production and is intended to help them restore stream buffers, improve habitat for native species, and prevent erosion, among other things. Young does not mention the dollar amount sought by the Lingle administration, but it would seem to be on the order of about $9 million, or approximately three-quarters of the $12 million in funds annually available to Hawai`i through the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

The DLNR has been named the lead agency in this project – at the same time it is divesting itself of responsibility for thousands of acres of agricultural land, with the Land Board having recently begun the process of turning over state leases to management of the Department of Agriculture (a development that is among the most significant in the DLNR’s recent history, but one not mentioned in the summary). To advance the project, Young lobbies for the removal of a qualifying income cap for participants of no more than $2.5 million in annual adjusted gross income from farming activities. This, he says, is needed because so much of Hawai`i’s farm lands – some 1.2 million out of 1.4 million acres in agricultural production – are tied up in the hands of a few large landowners.

Young writes: “A significant number of Hawaii’s ranches are owned by long-time family corporations, which over the years have found it necessary to diversify their business interests due to the dramatic fluctuations in cattle prices. These businesses have a strong commitment to their ranching operations, the land and land stewardship practices; yet, they require financial incentives to implement CREP components.”

According to sources at the DLNR, the Lingle administration attempted to get Congress to lift the income cap, but had no luck. The department is still pursuing the USDA funds, they say, but will try to identify partners who qualify under the federal agency’s income limit.

In sum, the report is impressionistic rather than systematic. No discernible principle informs its organization. Discussions of activities of the various DLNR branch agencies lack a uniform level of detail. As often as not, the discussions are of goals and approaches rather than accomplishments.

All this could be forgiven if the document contained a scintilla of reliable, useful information. Past annual reports from the DLNR were statistical compendia, laying out in sublime detail the number of miles of fence erected in forest reserves, the number of poachers caught, the pounds of fish taken, the numbers of acres of state lands leased (as well as the lessee, acreage, term, nature of use, and annual rent for each separate lease), number and species of game birds taken by hunters and the islands where the birds were caught, the number of transactions recorded by the Bureau of Conveyances, total receipts from conveyances fees, and the total value of property transferred in the state for a given year… Decades after they were published, they remain invaluable records.

The DLNR’s report for the 1993-94 fiscal year seems, alas, to have been the last of this kind. Even it is a shadow of earlier reports, which often ran to two meaty volumes. In the second half of the 1990s, the department published an anemic multi-year report, more public-relations than substance. Compared to the most recent report, though, it was a paragon of elegant, informative prose. Safe to say, the 2005 document will never be a well-thumbed volume on anyone’s shelf.

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