Fixing DTSC’s Foundation

A Message from Director Debbie Raphael

The Department of Toxic Substances Control’s mission is to protect the public from toxic harm by cleaning up contaminated properties, regulating facilities that handle hazardous waste and enforcing California’s tough hazardous waste laws. The public put their trust in us to do this, and we take this responsibility very seriously.

Since coming to the Department in 2011, my priority has been to identify and address issues that threaten DTSC’s ability to achieve its mission. And over the last two years we have uncovered a growing list of problems, many of which are longstanding. We are committed to owning up to the problems and taking the steps necessary to ensuring they are fixed once and for all.

Part of the reason these problems have existed for so long is that the Department failed to put in place the proper procedures and safeguards that might have prevented them from arising in the first place. So in early 2012, we launched an initiative, called “Fixing the Foundation,” to go back and establish the operational systems that we need to maintain effective programs and ensure accountability. It is critical that we address these systemic issues so that we don’t keep passing them on to future administrations.

Fixing these problems will take time, but I am confident we will get there together. We have already made progress in a number of key areas:

  • Enforcement and Permitting – We reorganized our Department to ensure better coordination between enforcement and permitting, two programs that are central to our mission. The reorganization has enabled staff to ensure the quality of permits and empowered inspectors to fully enforce the permit requirements.
  • Financial – We averted a major budget crisis, balancing our Toxic Substances Control and Hazardous Waste accounts so that we no longer rely on account surpluses to bridge the gap between expenditures and revenues.
  • Personnel – We brought our personnel system into alignment with state standards, reallocating positions so that we now are using our greatest resource – our staff – more efficiently and effectively.

Another reason for my confidence, in addition to the progress we already have made, is the reaction from our staff. Identifying and acknowledging our problems has understandably been difficult for employees who take pride in their work as public servants; however, their overwhelming message to me is one of support for fixing the systemic issues because it will allow them to do their jobs better.

Continued progress on the issues we have already identified require a focused effort over the coming months led by a management team that is up to the task. We are making some changes to our team to ensure the success of this effort.

The Governor has appointed Miriam Barcellona Ingenito as our new Chief Deputy Director. Miriam, who was Cal EPA Deputy Secretary for Environmental Policy and Community Programs, is working closely with the deputies and executive staff to create an effective and cohesive leadership team.

The process of rebuilding DTSC will be transparent. We are not hiding our problems because, at the end of the day, this is not about blame, it is about fixing. As a result, we are posting the list of more than 30 foundational issues we have identified so far. As our staff and external stakeholders help us to make sure we are addressing all of the needed improvements, we expect that list will grow.

In fact, I believe it will take the collective efforts of our external partners, the industries we regulate, the Legislature, and the people of California to help in building solutions. Together we will create a system that ensures we regularly review our progress and our effectiveness. We will identify and address new issues as they emerge and we will celebrate the successes along the way.

Two years ago, I began my tenure by visiting the town of Mecca in Riverside County.  The visit involved meeting in an auditorium full of parents of school children who were sickened from odors that came from an unauthorized hazardous waste treatment facility on nearby tribal property. We had known about the facility for years but failed to act, allowing hazardous wastes, some of which were from our own projects, to be treated at this facility.

The experience illustrated for me the seriousness of our problems. But it also showed me that DTSC is capable of deep, systemic fixes. We not only shut down shipments to the facility, immediately sparing the people of Mecca from additional exposure, but we also have overhauled the very way the Department tracks hazardous wastes, ensuring they are taken to authorized facilities to be treated or disposed of in a way that causes no harm.

Californians have put their trust in DTSC to provide these protections. They expect us to fix any problems that get in the way. DTSC is committed to restoring that trust – to owning up to our problems and taking responsibility for fixing them.

 

A Video Message

In a meeting with DTSC's senior management team, Director Debbie Raphael describes her expectations for fixing fundamental problems facing the Department. "We've been working hard to address these problems... What we are doing is fixing the foundation of this place. Every single one of us is part of that solution, and every one of us needs to be held accountable."