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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Remarks to the EPA Web Workgroup

01/13/2004
Note: Administrator Leavitt's remarks, delivered from notes, were taped and transcribed. As presented here, they have been lightly edited for clarity and to convey verbal emphasis.

Good morning. Thank you for the opportunity to be here with you today.

When President Bush asked me to serve as Administrator, I did exactly what a group of Web experts (like you) would expect me to do. I went to epa.gov and spent a couple of hours learning about the EPA. Given the fact that usage of the utah.gov Web site hit what could have been an all-time high on the day my appointment was announced, I'm guessing all of you were doing the same thing: looking at our Web site to learn about me!

Here's the point. In the information age, we learn largely through the Web. And for information-sharing agencies like the EPA, we must make our Web site an agency-wide priority. Knowing this, I feel some urgency and importance that we continually improve -- that we find ways to make our Web site better.

Now I must say that I have found the EPA Web site to be extraordinary in the amount of content and information that is just a click away. As a new Administrator learning about perchlorate, asbestos and dozens of other topics, I have found our Web site to be content rich and easy to navigate.

For this I want to congratulate you. I am proud to be a part of an extraordinarily good Web site.

It was mentioned in the introduction that a couple of years ago, in my previous position (as Governor of Utah), we wanted to have the very best Web site of its kind in the country. A few years prior we were ranked number 7, and then the previous year we ranked number three.

Now there are lots of rankings. I don't suspect that anyone can make the delineating declaration that one is the best. But, I will say that working toward a ranking motivated us to become better.

We convened a meeting, much like this meeting, and began to ask ourselves several questions: What do we have to do -- not to be number seven, not to be number three -- but to be number one? What do we have to do to raise our own performance to where we are literally the defining picture in the Web community of what a state Web site ought to be? What changes do we need to make in governance, in structure, in content, in design and navigation to become the best?

We the laid out a whole series of things we believed we needed to do to make ourselves number one.

What if we could launch over 100 interactive services on the Web? If our residents wanted to renew their driver's license -- do it on the Web. If they wanted to get a fishing license -- do it on the Web. If they wanted to register a car -- do it on the Web. If they wanted to register a business -- in one place, at one time, in 30 minutes -- do it on the Web. We concluded that if we could have over a hundred services available online, then that would help us become the best.

We concluded that we needed to do something different, to offer something that others didn't have. What if we implemented 24/7 live help? Could we do it? Would it work? Would people use it? Could we staff it adequately? It may not be perfect, but it would indeed make us better.

What if we made digital democracy a priority and allowed people to tell us what they liked and didn't like about state government? We wouldn't always like the answer, but it would allow our users to express opinions and add to our presence on the Web.

Were there ways that we could simplify and improve navigation? What about the design?

These are just some of the many areas that we laid out as challenges for ourselves. Now I must say that we learned a lot during the process of seeking "Best of the Web." The whole experience -- with an entity as diverse as a state government -- including prisons, schools, health departments and highways -- was not an easy task. It confirmed something that I learned early in my technology life: it is not the technology that limits us; it is the sociology that limits us.

We can make the machines work together, but can we make the people work together? Can we give up the turf of our own work and the natural inclination to have it look just like we want it to and instead make it better for those we serve?

We began to work through what I think is a brand new set of skills for the 21st Century. It is a new level of thinking that people need to have to succeed today. I like to think of them as collaborative skills.

Collaborative skills include the ability to take a diverse group of interests and organize them intuitively as networks. Successful networks work through problems in a way that transcends political boundaries. I'm not talking about the boundaries that separate a city or a county or a state. I'm talking about the political boundaries that exist between agencies of government, or between offices within a department.

All of these are political boundaries that in the past defined the nature of our work. But in the 21st Century, these boundaries must be transcended at every level. There is a need for us to work together, sociologically, in a way that makes these boundaries transparent to our customers. How well we do this becomes critical to our success.

In my home state, as we began working toward "Best of Web," we had to develop a process. And our process was made up of individual projects, some that succeeded and others that didn't. Looking back, it is instructive to enumerate the components of the successful projects.

For example, we found out that if organizations trying to collaborate on a specific subject didn't have a sense of common pain -- if they weren't trying to solve the same problem -- then they weren't as willing to work together as when they did. Without common pain, they weren't ready to give up their self interest to serve a greater common interest.

We found that if the purpose of their collaboration was not narrowly and specifically defined, they began to wander into bigger and bigger tasks to the point that they couldn't get any of them done.

So to collaborate effectively, we needed a sense of common pain and a narrowly-defined purpose.

We found that unless we had a convener of stature -- unless someone brought them together who had common status with all of the participants -- then people tended not to come together. The convener was not there to run the show, but to bring them together productively.

We also found that there had to be a committed leader, someone who by the force of his or her personality could keep the process going forward. Without a committed leader, it was impossible to keep the momentum.

We also found that there had to be a critical mass of participants and that there had to be a formalized charter -- even among departments of the same government. There needed to be an agreement among the players that "this is the task" and "this is the governance process." One person could not just stand up and say, "I am the convener and I will be the governance." We had to create an independent charter with an objective that was clearly defined.

Finally, we began developing a work plan. For instance, we developed an interactive (Web-based) process so automobile customers could receive their license plates at the point of sale (the car dealership.) It saved everybody time and money, but we had to have the car dealers involved, we had to have the Department of Motor Vehicles involved and we had to have the Tax Commission involved. We found we had to bring people from diverse areas and identify the common pain, find the right convener, develop a narrowly defined purpose and establish an independent governance process that enabled the buy-in of each player.

Now here at the EPA, we are one agency. There are numerous offices and ten regions, and yet we are one organization and we (should have) one Web site. So today, I would like to leave you with a series of direct, specific challenges that will help us continually improve.

As I have spoken with the people who are leading this effort, I have learned that there are several things we must do if we want to be the "Best of the Web" in the federal government. That should be our objective.

The first challenge is for us to recognize the importance of collaboration as a fundamental principle. Collaboration, not polarization, is a deliberate principle that we have to accept and work toward. The technology challenges are complex, but as I indicated, the sociology always trumps the technology in terms of the difficulty.

As part of this process of improvement, I'm asking that you not think of "your pages," but of your contribution to a unified agency Web site. I'm asking that you reorganize content to serve users, not your programs. I'm asking that we begin to measure our progress by our outcomes, not by our processes.

The second challenge I would like to give you is to have a Web governance process that is clearly defined. And I would like to have that done in the next 180 days. The Offices of Public Affairs and Environmental Information need to identify a cross-agency governance process for this purpose. They need to do this by recognizing that the best policies are those that are developed hand-in-hand with each other and with those who literally need to do the work.

The third challenge I'd like to give you is to pick up the velocity of our progress. We need to recognize that we are in the Internet age. Let's pick up the pace of our content reorganization.

I understand that as an agency we are committed to organizing 30 Topics Lite subjects by August 15. That is eight months away! I think we can do better than that. I'd like you to raise your sights. I'd like to challenge you to hit that target in six months, and that we double it in 12. There are a lot of people and talent in this room and in this agency. We can hit that target.

The fourth challenge requires some background. The type of improvement we are talking about requires support from the top. I've asked the Assistant Administrators and Regional Administrators to make sure that effective communications is a priority. I've told them that the Web is an important component of our communications, fundamental to everything that we do.

Our Web site ought not to just be a place where people come to see who we are; it ought to be part of our strategic communications agency-wide.

A big part of this agency's responsibility is to help people understand the things that they should worry about and the things that they should not worry about. We are dealing with a subject that is so important to people -- it is fundamentally about people's relationship with the earth and about their personal well-being. It is very personal. Our purpose is to serve them.

So again, let me recount these challenges:

First, make collaboration part of a fundamental ethic we use to move forward. Set aside the very human tendency to polarize, to go off and see your work as a program site or a regional site. We are part of a collaborative process. If we are to be the best in the federal government, the best in the world, we literally have to be one Web site serving our users and not our vested interests.

As part of this challenge, we need to reorganize the content according to the users' needs, and to measure outcomes, not processes.

Second, we need to have a governance process in place in 180 days.

Third, I'd like to pick up the pace of our content reorganization. Let's organize 30 topics light in the next six months and then double that in 12 months.

Finally, let's make communications -- Web communications -- part of everybody's job. You need to have your Assistant Administrator and Regional Administrators' support; I will do my part to make sure this happens.

I reflected a couple of nights ago about the first network that I was a part of building. It was for a business that had about 40 different locations. I began to see the capacity for networks and it energized me. We ended up developing an intranet using T1 lines. I remember paying a telephone bill of $18,000 a month and having to defend it as something that was going to produce great productivity over time.

One of the things I learned very early is that sometimes the productivity does indeed come at the end. Because of this, you have to persevere and pioneer.

I also learned that the learning curve was slow, not just by those who use the technology, but by those who are served by it.

I learned as well that this whole business of getting people to work together is the most difficult challenge. The machines will work together and the people must also work together if we are to succeed.

I believe that the Environmental Protection Agency's Web site can be the very best in the federal government. It can be the best environmental Web site in the world. And I look forward to working with you to make sure that it is so.

Thank you.