What does future hold for headless and hurting DLNR?
OUR STATE legislators consistently play a fun game around budget time -- they like to give the chairman of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, a department of considerable importance in Hawaii, some paper clips as his budget, and see if he can trade them up for a house in four years' time. This house has to properly protect and utilize all of the state's resources and preserve historic sites while being energy efficient and accommodating all of its residents. And now it seems that if the head of the DLNR does not succeed, then state lawmakers will tell him they "have concerns" and remove him from his position.
Ignoring all of the insinuations about Hawaii's state politics that the failed reconfirmation of DLNR Director Peter Young raises, the heart of the matter about the successful management of DLNR lies with its debilitating lack of funding.
SOME FUNDING facts: When Gov. Linda Lingle took office in 2002, the DLNR budget was about $60 million. Though this might seem substantial, it represents one penny of every dollar the state spent that year. In comparison, the Honolulu Police Department's budget that same year was more than $162 million, and that is just one job on one island; the DLNR touches every aspect of island life for all residents, human or not, on all islands of this state.
The DLNR is responsible for more than 800 personnel and 11 divisions that manage more than one million acres of state land, 69 state parks, 800,000 acres of forest, 21 small boat harbors, the enforcement of all laws and rules governing the environment and state lands, and all of the title paperwork for every real estate transaction in this state, among other duties, including environmental protection, hunter education and coastline preservation. To say there are inherent conflicts of interest within the department would be an understatement.
WITH SUCH budgetary restrictions and moral conflicts, it should come as no surprise that the morale of some DLNR employees is low. It should also not surprise the public when the gift of a now-questionable computer system is accepted (under a previous director's leadership). Such low funding indicates that this department, full of lofty aspirations and hopeful employees, is not a priority to the state. How should this department adequately enforce all of the environmental laws in the entire state with the funding for an enforcement staff not much larger than the security force at the University of Hawaii-Manoa?
Moreover, since these points are not hidden, it is not out of the question that in this period of low unemployment, when job seekers have their choice of opportunities, this department might have trouble filling its positions. In addition to the neglect a DLNR employee might feel, it cannot make a job any easier to wonder how he or she can make photocopies without knowing where the next ream of paper is coming from.
YET DESPITE all of this disparagement, many current employees of DLNR stood behind their leader through this drawn-out reconfirmation process. Perhaps some lawmakers call Young's response to the pressure of leading this massive department "mismanagement," but I just call it working hard to achieve as much as he can with what few resources he has been given. Sadly, Young will not be able to continue to lead the department he labored so hard for. Sadder still, his rejected reconfirmation successfully avoided the true issue -- the DLNR, regardless of its leadership, requires more funding to fairly and adequately satisfy its responsibilities.
As for the past four years, despite falling short in his assignment to trade up for the perfect house, Young was able to trade his paper clips for something of immense, incalculable value: the respect and support of people in Hawaii. Will our next brave civil servant be able to accomplish half as much?
Merissa Sakuda is a graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management at the University of Hawaii-Manoa.