Nearly one-fifth of the positions in the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality are vacant, and it is responsible for administering regulations to protect water, air quality, and public health.
As of October 25, 19.19% of DEQs (340 out of 1,772 positions) were vacant. This includes new, limited-time positions created to manage federal funding programs, according to information provided by DEQ officials.
DEQ’s staffing shortages point to a broader problem in state government, with many departments coping with even sharper declines, straining state employees, while private professionals are typically out of work. have a lower income than sector.
State government vacancies increased by more than 22% by the end of August.
Employee shortages affect every sector of state government, from public schools to safety, health and human services.
Unless legislators direct some of these funds to state agencies to ensure that employees are paid at rates competitive with the private sector, there will be more unfilled job positions for the government to serve. The people here at, that is, the void you already feel can deepen.
Exacerbating the loss of staff to higher-paying private sector jobs is the number of retirement-eligible staff within the sector.
Since January 1st, 53 DEQ employees have left.
An additional 14% of the division’s employees are eligible for retirement, DEQ’s deputy director of public affairs Sharon Martin said in an email responding to questions from the Coastal Review.
Within the next five years, 452 DEQ employees will be eligible for retirement.
“This is another reason why we are so focused on tackling recruitment and retention issues,” Martin said in an email.
But it’s no easy task in what she describes as a highly competitive labor market “made worse by the inability to compete with market salaries.”
In fact, 36% of employees who left the sector said salary was a deciding factor in leaving. More than half of the job openings, 56%, were turned down based on salary, according to information provided by Martin.
“At DEQ’s current level of funding, many budget salaries are not competitive in the current job market, and engineers may be one of the clearest examples,” she said. “Among state agencies, DEQ has her second highest need for engineers, only after (the Department of Transportation). But the competitive market for engineers makes retention and recruitment particularly difficult.”
The average and median salary of a DEQ Engineer 1 is about $15,000 less than the starting salary of an engineer graduate at North Carolina State University. With over 20 years of experience, Engineer II will be paid “roughly the same” as her NC State engineer fresh out of college.
Martin said DEQ is taking several steps to address staffing challenges, including raising salaries for 88 employees who were below the minimum wage under the state’s compensation scheme. I was. Target retention bonuses for engineers and environmental specialists. It then evaluates a multi-step, sector-wide plan to reduce the pay gap between the public and private sector for staff who qualify for specific education and experience.
With real wages for civil servants failing to keep up with the private sector and inflation, and now at their highest level in 41 years, it is difficult to find “the dedicated, talented and knowledgeable civil servants we rely on for modernization. ” has become very difficult to maintain. NC Budget & Tax Center Research His Manager Patrick McHugh said:
“Despite hearing about the challenges that private sector employers are experiencing in hiring talent, little attention has been paid to similar crises occurring among public sector employees, particularly those in the state. I don’t think it came through.
McHugh said he first saw disparities in state, federal, and local government employee losses when he looked at data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to that data, North Carolina lost thousands of state employees, but not in local government or federal departments.
McHugh wondered if he was looking at the wrong data and cross-referenced the agency’s figures with those from the NC National Personnel Administration. The results were the same.
McHugh said one of the key things to keep in mind when talking about the current state workforce decline is the pandemic.
A crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic that befell America in early 2020 reveals government weaknesses.
Years before the pandemic, DEQ was one of the main targets of cuts and underfunding under the administration of Governor Pat McCrory, who served as governor from 2013 to 2017.
“The proportional reduction in (DEQ) workforce may not be as severe as the rest of the state government, but the fact that they were already barely holding things together for years of cuts makes that “It means that such kinds of losses can be more severe than the pure employment numbers alone indicate,” McHugh said.
It’s been five years since perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) hit the spotlight in North Carolina. This is after the public became aware that man-made chemicals have been released into the Cape Fear River, air and ground for decades. A DuPont spin-off by Chemours.
The PFAS crisis is layered with other long-term issues, such as the impact of climate change, exacerbating limited staff resources.
“When something like that happens, it pulls capacity away from other priorities within institutions like DEQ. Other important priorities such as: Other types of environmental protection will have to be sacrificed to meet the new challenges that have just emerged,” McHugh said.
For DEQ staff, that means more work and longer hours.
“The result was longer lead times for some permitting processes and increased staff stress,” says Martin.
“It hits us in so many different ways.”
Chris Gibson, president of TI Coastal Services Inc., a Wilmington civil engineering firm, noticed the pressure on DEQ employees starting around the time Hurricane Florence hit the North Carolina coast in 2018. .
The storm’s record-breaking storm surge exceeded 9 to 13 feet, causing devastating flooding in coastal and near-coastal inland counties.
“The situation is getting worse and worse,” Gibson said of DEQ’s staff shortage. “I’ll say this, but if you’re going to quote me on anything, this isn’t the staff’s fault. It’s the fact that they don’t have enough staff for the amount going on. Was in a massive rebuild scenario but still operating with the same number of staff or less. How many crosswalks did Jason Dale have to see in
Dail is a Field Officer in the Wilmington Regional Office for DEQ’s Coastal Management Division.
If a state requests a 75-day extension to review a permit, it usually takes the full 75 days, “because it requires more urgent work,” Gibson said.
“They rarely ask for an extension and give permission after three days,” he said. “It’s hard because you can expect the time they requested to be the time it takes to get to you. It’s really tough. From November 15th to the end of March or the end of April, depending on what the work is exactly. No. If you were trying to get your permit in September and suddenly got another 75 days, you thought you were 60 days ahead and now you’re 20 days behind, so suddenly your staffing needs and We get stuck in staffing holes, or we’re overstaffed because things have to change. It hits us in so many different ways.”
Dana Sargent, executive director of Cape Fear River Watch, expressed frustration at the staff shortage, saying environmental nonprofits with limited staff and funding are also being overwhelmed.
“I feel like DEQ has a lot of great people doing great things,” she said. “The recent work from DEQ on PFAS is strong and we are very grateful for that work. That being said, it is their job. There is an enormous amount of pollution in , and we are trying to protect our communities, and we are doing all we can with our limited funds, begging for grants, and doing what we can to pay the grants. We need to prove to our funders that we are doing the work on top of that our capital, so while we are raking in the money to do this work, it’s hard to hear from state agencies that they don’t have the money It’s frustrating.”
In late September, the North Carolina Center for Tax and Budget released a report highlighting the failure of the 2022-2023 state budget to address the impact of inflation.
The state’s economy is strong, but the state’s spending on the economy is at an all-time low, according to the report.
Rather than using federal COVID-19 relief funds that have been pumped into states to deal with the pandemic crisis, state legislators have basically used those funds for what would normally be paid in state dollars. and diverted state funds into reserves.
And legislators did this, whether it was in committee hearings or elected representatives voting on the floor, without giving North Carolina residents a chance to express their views.
Instead, the House and Senate released conference reports on the budget. The meeting report cannot be amended and the report cannot be referred to the committee.
Lawmakers transferred $9.1 billion to more than a dozen reserve accounts in the 2022-23 budget. Including his $1 billion put into the newly created Stabilization and Inflation Reserve, of which he has nearly $4.2 billion unappropriated.
“I think it’s important for North Carolina residents to know that billions of dollars are on the sidelines in a moment of ongoing crisis, and it’s not enough conversation being had.” The reality is that at least we have the money on hand to give the kind of pay raises that will protect civil servants from the effects of inflation. It will take years.”