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By Caryn Shinske March 17, 2013

Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel claims DEP staffing levels lowest since mid-1980s

Doing more with less doesn’t always have good results, according to the director of New Jersey’s Sierra Club.

Jeff Tittel made that point in a March 2 opinion column on, specifically referencing the state’s Department of Environmental Protection.

"DEP has 2,812 employees, the lowest level since the mid-’80s," Tittel wrote, questioning cuts in Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget that impact various environmental funds and suggesting that low staffing means fewer people ensuring the state’s air is clean and people are protected from flooding.

Is Tittel right that the state’s environmental arm is reducing staffing at great risk to New Jerseyans?

Not quite.

First, let’s review the number of people on staff at the DEP and how those levels have fluctuated through the years. Then we’ll compare current staffing with levels from the mid-1980s.

Tittel claimed the DEP has 2,812 employees, but that figure is the staffing level proposed for the fiscal year 2014 budget, according to Larry Ragonese, DEP spokesman. Currently, the DEP has 2,734 employees, he said. So Tittel is off by 78 workers.

It’s worth noting that Christie has the final say on the budget and must approve it by June 30. The new fiscal year starts on July 1.

So how is DEP staffing now compared with the mid-1980s?

We asked Ragonese for annual DEP staffing levels from 1970 to present, but since Tittel wasn’t more specific than "the mid-80s," we’ll look at years 1983 through 1987 and compare those with more recent years.

Featured Fact-check

1983: 2,214 1984: 2,226 1985: 2,486 1986: 2,704 1987: 3,062
2010: 2,960 2011: 2,846 2012: 2,736 2013: 2,734 2014: 2,812*
*proposed in FY2014 budget
Source: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
Using the current staff figure of 2,734, Tittel is correct that the DEP’s employment levels are the lowest since 1986 -- the mid-1980s.

But Tittel didn’t use that number. He said 2,812 employees. That means DEP staffing is the lowest it’s been since 2012 and now.

So why is staffing a big concern for Tittel and the Sierra Club?

"By having less staff and less hours you don’t have the people that are needed to do all that needs to be done," Tittel told us. "We’ve also added a lot more programs to the DEP to contend with -- the Highlands, the Freshwater Wetlands Protection Act, global warming and a few other programs. They’re stressed out in a  lot of these areas because they have a lot on their plate and less people."

Ragonese disagrees.

While DEP staffing at one point topped 4,000 (in the early 1990s), the state’s environmental concerns have changed, requiring less staffing. The agency also has worked to become more streamlined and efficient in accordance with goals set by Christie and DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.

"We’re taking care of the state’s air, water, land and natural resources but we have to run like a business, to make this place work better, to take steps away from being a horrible bureaucracy," Ragonese said. He added that DEP has improved water quality and air quality levels while reducing emissions and contaminants.
Our ruling

Tittel claimed in a recent op-ed column that the "DEP has 2,812 employees, the lowest level since the mid-’80s."

Tittel’s number is off a bit. The DEP has 2,734 employees this year but could increase that to 2,812, under Christie’s proposed fiscal year 2014 budget.
As for the rest of Tittel’s claim, he’s right that the DEP’s staffing level is the lowest since the mid-1980s -- if he bases that off current staffing. But he used the proposed staffing figure of 2,812 employees, which means the DEP personnel roster is the lowest it's been in only the past couple of years.
We rate Tittel's claim Half True.
To comment on this story, go to

Our Sources, New Jersey’s environment is under attack in Christie’s budget: Opinion, March 2, 2013, accessed March 6 and 14, 2013

Phone interview with Larry Ragonese, spokesman, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, March 6 and 7, 2013

Phone interview with Jeff Tittel, director, New Jersey Sierra Club, March 13, 2013

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More by Caryn Shinske

Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel claims DEP staffing levels lowest since mid-1980s

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