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Politics

Rick Scott, Cabinet Open Search for DEP, FDLE Leaders

May 4, 2015 - 6:00pm

The directors of the state's top environmental and law-enforcement agencies have to reapply for their jobs after failing to get confirmed during the regular legislative session.

Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet agreed Tuesday to hold a brief "national search" for the positions of Department of Environmental Protection secretary and Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner.

Scott and the Cabinet also agreed to retain Jon Steverson as the interim Department of Environmental Protection secretary and Rick Swearingen as interim Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner for the next 45 days while resumes are collected and reviewed.

Swearingen and Steverson, who were first appointed in December, intend to apply for their jobs.

While there is some expectation that Steverson and Swearingen will eventually retain the positions, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said he doesn't have "preconceptions" on the finalists for the jobs.

"It will be posted, it will be a national search and we encourage resumes to come in and Cabinet members will have an opportunity to interview," Putnam said after the Cabinet meeting. "I don't want to prejudge the process."

The Cabinet recently adopted a set of reforms for hiring and retaining the appointments of Cabinet-level agency heads that includes an outside search.

The process was crafted after Cabinet members voiced displeasure with the abrupt removal of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey in December. Bailey's departure did not come up Tuesday.

The deadline to apply and submit resumes for either of the leadership roles is May 31.

Scott and the Cabinet -- Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater -- are expected to vote on the positions at a June 23 meeting.

Swearingen has also been directed at the June 23 meeting to provide a six-month update on accomplishments at the law-enforcement agency, also part of the new agency-head review process.

Scott recommended Steverson and Swearingen to their $150,000-a-year positions in December, and both got Cabinet backing in January.

Swearingen, who had been director of the Capitol Police since June 2013, has been with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement since 1984. He previously served as assistant special agent in charge and special agent supervisor. The Capitol Police is part of FDLE.

Steverson served in the governor's office under former Govs. Charlie Crist and Jeb Bush. Steverson also served as special counsel on policy and legislative affairs for the Department of Environmental Protection under former Secretary Herschel Vinyard before taking over as executive director of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

Steverson and Swearingen were among 16 agency heads who failed to be confirmed by the Senate in the legislative session that ended last week. The Department of Environmental Protection and Florida Department of Law Enforcement positions were the only ones that require both Senate and Cabinet confirmation.

The Senate and Scott appeared at odds as the session came to a close amid a budget impasse over health care funding, with the governor threatening to veto a number of Senate bills if the chamber didn't move his requested $673 million tax-cut package. Scott's tax cuts remain in limbo, awaiting a special session on the budget.

Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said Monday that the "confirmation process should be more than a simple rubber stamp."

"Towards the end of session, I heard from many senators who were not satisfied with some of the answers provided, or still had some outstanding questions for several agency heads," Gardiner said in a prepared statement.

Scott on Monday reappointed 14 of the agency heads to one-year terms, while designating Steverson and Swearingen as interims until the Cabinet names the new directors.

The 14 other agency heads will need to be confirmed by the Senate during the 2016 session to retain their positions.

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