DEP Chief Fears Problems as Employees Retire

Charleston Gazette
17 May 2011
By Phil Kabler

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman told legislators Tuesday he fears a brain drain at the regulatory agency, as many longtime employees are reaching retirement age.

Huffman said that many of those employees joined the DEP in the 1970s and early 1980s, as environmental regulations were being enacted, and devoted themselves to careers in public service.

However, Huffman told a Joint Government Organization interim committee meeting that the new generation of employees does not have the same level of commitment.

"That sense of loyalty, that sense of public service that caused my generation to stay, they don't have that," he said of younger employees.

He said younger employees today are much more likely to leave the DEP for private-sector jobs in regulated industries, something that rarely happened in the past, despite higher salaries in the private sector.

"They're basically out here on display for the companies we regulate to determine who the best and brightest are," Huffman said of younger employees. "We end up competing with the private sector for that talent pool."

He noted that DEP's turnover rate, which had been 3 percent a year, has jumped to 6 percent recently.

Huffman said he is concerned about a "significant drain" of institutional knowledge as more and more longtime employees retire.

"If we lose an experienced veteran, that loss is extremely high," he said.

Huffman stressed that the Office of Oil and Gas needs to hire more inspectors, with the anticipated growth in Marcellus Shale drilling. Currently, the office is budgeted for 17 inspectors and has one vacancy.

However, he said the shortage of inspectors is not as severe as critics claim.

"I get a little disturbed when I hear people say, '17 inspectors for 60,000 gas wells,'" Huffman said, noting that once a well is installed and operational, there is usually no need for additional inspections.

Reach Phil Kabler at or 304-348-1220.