In Eric’s office that overlooked the Capitol dome with Dr. Tudor Davies

Here I share insights into the top-down EPA hierarchy of the early 1980s…


Book excerpts:


  • Little did I realize at the time that organization and key management decisions, including omissions made by EPA’s top political leaders in Washington, D.C. at the same time, were making the same decentralization decision and similarly taking a hands-off or laissez-faire attitude towards fulfilling the need to develop standard operating procedures in areas vital to EPA’s success and driving them through the hierarchy, from HQ to the 10 regional offices and 57 states and territories. Rather than grow into the job as a strong organizational manager, Jack became the penultimate “politician.” His behavior seemed motivated to not come down on the wrong side of an issue.
  • Without meaningful priorities set by the AAs and a system to evaluate performance against those priorities, performance standards would devolve into the AA just telling his office directors to set their own priorities. The whole exercise would be easily gamed to produce “performance exceeding expectations,” the highest ranking under Rebecca’s system.
  • EPA is led by an ever-revolving door of political appointees and lacks accountability for its actions and failures. In my case, I also instituted the first standard operation procedures and accountability system that pushed national priorities through EPA’s 10 regions and 57 states and territories upon which I could evaluate performance, report accurately to Congress, and make management improvements. This vital management tool disappeared because of the frequent turnover of top EPA officials who serve the President “for the time being”.
  • Initially, the only check-and-balance over regulatory creep was Congress’ oversight authority, which varied considerably over the years and was only marginally effective at checking EPA’s excesses. Indeed, in the first two decades of EPA’s rollout of the CWA, Congress was interested in expanding its activities, not restricting its activities.
  • From this dissertation, one can appreciate the consequences resulting from EPA being formed as a political organization under executive order where its top leadership who served at the pleasure of the President for “the time being” were seldom in office long enough to see the results of their policies, make corrections, and ensure new programs established by their predecessors did not lose top management attention by their successors. To be sure, the organizational decisions, management and communication style, and policy emphasis of the first three EPA Administrators of the 1970s had much to do with EPA’s acute operating inefficiency, its inability to remain faithful to the laws it administered as corresponding regulations were rolled out, programs put in place to implement them, and organizational accountability (or lack thereof). Ruckelshaus’ management imprint was most influential. While achieving some desired outcomes, there were unintended adverse consequences of EPA’s early policy and organizational decisions that will be chronicled in the ensuing chapters in this Part II.
  • What I am referring to by the term “standard operating procedures” (SPO’s) is the means and methods by which “span of control” of managers, starting with the Chief of Naval Operations, were able to effectively carry out its mission despite its size and physically decentralized global force. Without written standard operating procedures, the span of control of an EPA administrator or regional administrator would be the number of people he or she could meet with or number of phone calls made in a day. Consequently, heavy reliance was made on the fealty of the recipient of a policy in carrying out directives from the top of the organization — fealty that was in the case of EPA, misplaced particularly in light of countervailing policies that emanated from a decentralized agency consisting of 10 regional offices. Memos that he/she might issue in EPA’s headquarters and signed by the administrator could be ignored or not disseminated in the organization below the managers. Thus the rank and file was often oblivious to policy shifts.
  • EPA needs to be reoriented towards serving less as a political beast of the White House or the majority party administration, and more as a true independent scientific and technological organization with a mission and wherewithal in alignment. This will require acknowledging that the challenges EPA faces today are very different than in 1972. We have made great strides in enhancing and protecting the uses supported by water quality. The institutions of government, particularly at the state level, are better equipped to foster a new generation of pollution control strategies.
  • Indeed, over EPA’s history, with the exception of formal rule making under the Administrative Procedures Act, adoption of administrative policy statements and guidance did not follow any prescribed process (until my tenure — see Part IV: Sewergate) and each office typically published its own guidance and policy statements on an ad hoc basis without benefit of any formal review or approval process, such as the Red Border Review Process.
  • EPA needs to be rebooted to meet the realities of our times.