Speeches - By Date
2005 Excellence in Government Conference, Washington, D.C.07/27/2005
Earlier this year, I received a call from the President of the United States, asking me to become the Administrator of EPA. I don’t care who you are, or what your party affiliation is – if the President calls to ask to you lead the Agency you have worked for, for the past 24 years, your reaction would be the same as mine was --- wow!
By appointing me - a career government employee - to serve as Administrator, he has shown confidence in a system of good governance that has produced and nurtured its future leaders.
I am extremely humbled that President Bush asked me to serve as the leader in a governmental system, in which I, myself am a product. It is a system in which I was fortunate to have mentors who took me under their wings, gave me praise and encouragement, (pause) and yes, even took the time to chastise me now and then. It is a system that has delivered great results for the American people, and one that also has room for progress.
When I started thinking about this morning’s remarks, I kept coming back to the 5 Principles I laid out to lead EPA. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that these Principles are appropriate for the entire government.
These Principles are:
First, as managers – and as public servants – our job is to provide the American people with results. To do this, we need to be sure we are operating efficiently, effectively and competitively today – as well as building the necessary framework for tomorrow.
The President’s Management Agenda has been a great tool for ensuring our management results are effective and enduring. As a manager, I am thrilled that the President has placed a priority on a instituting a Management Agenda, in order to ensure the entire federal government is focused on standards of success.
For some, being held accountable can be a pretty scary thing. To be graded on performance goals and standards of success makes some people nervous. But for me, and hopefully for all the leaders of good government here in this room, I welcome the challenge of accountability and I am reassured that this Administration is focused on results.
I, too, am focused on results. When my daughters call, they don’t care about EPA’s latest monitoring techniques or what conference I’ve attended. They only thing they want to know is if EPA is doing its job and cleaning my grandchildren’s air, water and land.
My daughters, and the American people are focused on results – and so should all of us here today. Whether you are protecting our environment or securing our homeland, good government always encourages greater results, accountability and stewardship.
By focusing on results, our nation’s environment has made extraordinary gains. In the last four years alone, under the Bush Administration:
EPA’s mission is to ensure that our air is cleaner, water is more pure and land is better protected. As a manager of 18,000 people, my job is also to make sure EPA has the right people to complete that mission – that they are not just performing, but performing well – and that they are using the taxpayer’s dollars efficiently and effectively.
In order to achieve results, we have to make sure every Agency decision is based on sound science – the same sound science that is the basis of all our achievements and is the genesis for our future of successes.
Continuous investment in sound science is the second of my Principles. But not just science, as in chemistry or biology, but in the science of managing people. Our human resources, our ethics, our future planning – in order to make progress, all of these things must be based on sound science.
One of the most important lessons I learned from a mentor was, that in order to make a good, effective decision, one must consider and understand the full range of possibilities – including all of the strengths and weaknesses of an option – before reaching a conclusion. That’s part of the sound science of a decision.
In order to be effective, we have learned that we must also be transparent. By expanding E-Government, the President is ensuring that the federal government is improving its ability to serve its citizens.
As Administrator, my third Principle is to advance the credibility of EPA’s decisions by highlighting the sound science on which all of our actions are based, and by effectively communicating to the public how and why our conclusions are reached.
As a leader, one of the lessons I have learned through the years, and especially now as Administrator, is the power and responsibility of good communication.
Recently, I was joking with a reporter – another thing I have learned is to not joke with reporters – and I said, “What if I told you I didn’t like broccoli? Now, some of you would report it just like I said it, ‘The EPA Administrator doesn’t like broccoli.’ But some of you reporters would say, ‘Hmmm, Steve has spent 24-plus years at EPA, virtually his entire career. He knows a lot about bio-tech, industrial chemicals and pesticides. The Administrator said he doesn’t like broccoli – and we know his background. He must know something we don’t.’”
I must say for the record that I love broccoli and there is nothing wrong with it – and as a family, we eat it frequently. But one of the things I have learned, that as the head of an agency, and this goes for all government leaders, the power of words is an awesome responsibility.
As a scientist, there is an additional challenge of staying true to science, while getting the message across to reporters, and eventually to the people we work for – the American citizens. So when people ask me, “Steve, does this cause cancer?” – as a scientist I can give you an answer such that according to the linear low-dose extrapolation model at the upper bound, the cancer risk rate is 10-to-the-minus-6. As anyone who follows cancer risks knows, 10-to-the-minus-6 is generally considered a safe level. But what some people would hear, is, “Administrator Johnson said this thing causes cancer.”
It is a challenge for anyone practicing good government to effectively relay your message, while still staying true to your founding values – in EPA’s case, the value of sound science.
EPA has been at the forefront of advancing innovation and has also been a leader in collaborative problem solving – my forth Principle.
Collaborative efforts, innovative programs, education and outreach are the proven tools for today and tomorrow. Over the Agency’s 35 years, public perception of environmental stewardship has evolved from “let the government take care of it,” into an understanding that protecting our shared environment is each individual’s responsibility.
By promoting a culture of partnerships over conflicts, EPA is helping to usher in a new era of environmental protection. By involving more participants in the process, we promote a culture of environmental stewardship – both in this country and in others throughout the world.
EPA must now set this environmental agenda and highlight the mechanisms to increase the public’s role in stewardship.
The President has called on me to expand the Agency’s role in facilitating these 21 st Century collaborative solutions and stewardship opportunities in order to confront the 21 st Century’s evolving environmental challenges.
Excellence in government isn’t just what you do within your agency or department – it also means working outside government with our partners in industry and advocacy, and with individuals and communities. I am proud of the significant progress our partnerships have achieved, particularly over the last four years.
The President’s Great Lakes Initiative has brought together regional partners at the state, local, tribal, Congressional and international levels to protect these majestic lakes. At the federal level alone, over 140 programs were operating without much coordination. This collaborative strategy, bringing together resources and ideas from our partners, is the next step in ensuring the Great Lakes remain an international treasure - forever open to trade and tourism, and providing a healthy ecosystem for its surrounding communities.
Another program, EPA’s Performance Track, is a shining example of how we help our partners voluntarily make environmental improvements, exceed regulatory requirement, work closely with their communities, and excel in protecting the environment and public health. In 2003 alone, Performance Track members collectively reduced their energy use by 5.3 trillion BTUs, their water use by over 566 million gallons, and their solid waste by nearly 300,000 tons.
None of these goals will be achieved without the help of EPA’s dedicated staff. That is why my fifth Principle is an investment in human capital. The success of EPA and the health of our nation’s environment is inseparable from the productivity and creativity of the Agency’s professional staff – we must exemplify excellence in government in order to be successful.
But as I look around the room, I see a lot of gray hairs – including my own. We must face the fact that we are looking at a challenge as the professionals in government, like you and me, are getting up there in years. In order to maintain our ability to deal with the challenges of the 21 st Century, we need to make sure we have the right people trained in the right disciplines and with the right problem-solving skills.
President Bush is the only president, at least in modern times, that has as a priority the development of comprehensive strategy for investing in human capital.
As a product of EPA’s own investment in human capital, I know that the performance of our environment and the performance of our employees go hand-in-hand. That is why I appreciate the value of recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest into public service.
Each year, the Agency’s Professional Intern Program brings in over 2,000 applicants for 20-plus positions, and carries over to an outstanding retention rate. And our Senior Executive Service program has provided the succession strategy to nurture our Agency’s future leaders and meet the needs of our retirement projections.
By finding and training a qualified workforce, it is my hope that when all of us here are retired, we can look back and say that we prepared the government, and our professional successors, for the challenges of the future.
One of the most important messages a mentor ever taught me, which applies to everyone, but especially senior managers, is, when you advance up your career ladder, take someone with you. Take the time to teach (pause), coach (pause), and train. When you take the extra effort to be a mentor, you are providing the government with a future leader.
I could guess that all of us in this room could be working for private industry – making a lot more money than we do today. But we are not, and we all have our reasons for that. My reason is that I want to be able to tell my daughters that I did all I could to hand my grandchildren a safer, healthier environment in which to live, work and play.
I’m sure many of you don’t hear this enough, but I want to thank you for all you do to provide for the current, and the future, success of government. It is an important job.
Thank you for inviting me to be here today. Even though many of your jobs aren’t related to environmental protection, I challenge you to think about my Principles and apply them to your own leadership responsibilities.
And, whoever you are, your work should have a lasting effect on human capitol – realizing the importance of investing in others – working to attract the brightest and the best into government service – and, being a mentor by teaching and taking someone with you.
I wish you good luck throughout the rest of your conference.