Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed cuts to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources scientists could extend beyond what budget documents have portrayed.
A state law requires that before the DNR can lay off a single permanent staffer, it must let go any limited-term employees or probationary employees with the same job classification.
The governor has proposed to cut 66 positions from the agency, 18.4 of them research scientists from the Bureau of Science Services.
Agency spokesman Bill Cosh confirmed that the DNR notified LTEs who were at risk, but he did not answer questions about how many people the proposed cuts could affect, or how the cuts would affect research.
The science bureau relies heavily upon limited-term employees as a money-saving measure; they do not qualify for tenure, paid holidays, sick leave or vacations. They are considered temporary, but some have worked there for more than 10 years.
According to numbers DNR furnished the Legislative Fiscal Bureau in early May, the science bureau has 95 LTEs — 41 classified as senior research scientists and eight as advanced research scientists. Another 33 are technicians.
George Meyer, a former DNR secretary who now is executive director of the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, said the DNR asked the state Department of Administration for an exemption from the LTE termination rule — but was denied.
Cosh did not answer questions attempting to confirm the exemption and obtain related documents.
Layoffs are not certain even if the cuts go through, because people with cut positions may apply for other jobs within the agency, or “bump” less senior staffers and take their jobs.
Cosh said the DNR is working with the at-risk staff “to avoid layoffs.”
Helen Sarakinos of the River Alliance of Wisconsin said the DNR administration has so far failed to explain how the science will continue, for instance whether “at risk” scientists will be offered science positions in other divisions.
“Who is going to do the work? They’re not answering that, and they’re certainly not behaving as if they’re intending to protect the capacity to do that work,” she said.
This story is part of Water Watch Wisconsin, a project examining problems with Wisconsin’s water quality and supply.
The nonprofit Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.