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Insights into the reign of William D. Ruckelhaus, the first Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1970 to 1973 under President Richard Nixon, and then returned as fifth Administrator from 1983 to 1985 under President Ronald Reagan.


Book excerpts:


  • Ruckelshaus’ prominent role in ordering and announcing to the press and hence to the world these first municipal and industrial water pollution enforcement cases denoted that the implementation of EPA’s enforcement policies and subsequent roll out of additional enforcement cases would be based on “personality-driven management style,” and not system or organizational-driven management styles. I do not believe this was Ruckelshaus’ intent.
  • Ruckelshaus shied away from functionalization because he felt that structure was not as important as personnel [which was at odds with the Ash Council’s philosophy of large administrative organizations]. Having worked all his life with lawyers in a collegial environment, he had no experience managing a hierarchical agency. He did not feel that he understood the jargon used by his organizational advisors and the meaning of the charts they brought to him. He believed that the success of an organization scheme depended upon getting key people to make it work, that there was no magic in a particular structure.
  • Ruckelshaus believed more in people than organization as the vehicle for carrying out EPA’s mission. He failed to recognize the complexity of EPA’s mission and the need for standard operating procedures. I assume that for him, the use of Rules of Civil Procedure was a sufficient roadmap for enforcement. Indeed, he expected, albeit believed, that people would follow instruction much in the way lawyers in private practice would do so in a collegial environment or in the small, boutique civil enforcement division he operated just prior to assuming the role of EPA Administrator.
  • Ruckelshaus did not comprehend that regional administrators and regional enforcement directors would be inundated by written guidance and directives from headquarters. In the total absence of any meaningful means of measuring their performance, they would choose those they liked and ignore others. Regions became fiefdoms. Perhaps had Mr. Ruckelshaus not left EPA the first time so soon, he would have been more in tune with the complaints of regional enforcement staff over the need for clearer policies, procedures, and guidance — but I doubt it.
  • EPA was far more complex than when Ruckelshaus first took office in December 1970. The demands placed on the agency, and the political maelstrom surrounding the Gorsuch administration of EPA (May 1981-March 1983), were a far cry from EPA in December 1970-April 1973, when Ruckelshaus I set its initial course. The intervening years at Weyerhaeuser between Ruckelshaus I and Ruckelshaus II did not prepare him for managing the complexities of what he faced in a government agency of over 8,000 employees. Just as being an attorney in Indiana did not prepare him to put into place certain management systems at EPA’s founding that would anticipate the need for strong centralized policies and procedures — or the data management that was essential to meet the challenge of fair and firm enforcement, and that would accurately measure and report “compliance” results.
  • When Ruckelshaus returned to EPA in April 1973, he doubled down on his personality driven management style where Ruckelshaus believed that personal persuasion while relying on professionalism and loyalty of his top managers, was an effective means of span of control and implementing policies from the national level through a large and complex organization of 10 regions and 50 states. Ruckelshaus doubled down on his decentralization model of governance by rejecting Rebecca’s recommendation (to adopt my management and accountability initiative, The Office of Water Operating Guidence and Accountability System) was again in evidence at his Alexandria, VA rebuke of national enforcement staff in the winter of 1985 which is covered in detail in Part IV-12 “The Enforcement Debacle.”
  • “The question really is whether we, as a society, not whether the company I work for, or the industry of which I am a part … is going to be adversely affected. It is really whether the country, whether the people, should spend money, which doesn’t produce very much benefit for us as a society … it is my view that unless the Congress amends the existing requirements for best available treatment standards, we will be ignoring the public interest for the sake of demonstrating technological capability, and the standard will continue to be for all to employ the best available technology, and the standard will not be what we ought to do, but what we can do.” Wm. Ruckelshaus
  • Any organizational structure can be made to work, provided planning, prioritization, and accountability circumscribe it, and nomenclature is institutionalized. Inherently conflicting functional responsibilities, like “policeman on the beat” and “partners with states,” and the confusion and conflict they invoked at EPA’s founding, can be mitigated with policies and procedures. Unfortunately, EPA’s first administrator did not reconcile these conflicting functional responsibilities when he initiated EPA’s “enforce first” policy under the Refuse Act of 1899 at EPA’s inception.