Tales of a Specialized Generalist

About the author: Karen Reshkin manages the Web site in EPA’s Chicago office. She’s been there since 1991, and can still remember life before the Internet.

federal messenger envelopeI’ve worked at US EPA since the early 90s. I must enjoy my work, because I’m always surprised to watch the years mount up.

A more unsettling surprise comes when people ask me about EPA’s policies or recent actions that get into the news. More often than I like to admit, my answer is, “I don’t know.”

Why not? Well, I don’t follow news as closely as I probably should. But also, my job at EPA is mainly concerned with our Web site. I can help you find info on epa.gov, or tell you all about our Web standards (though you might never ask), but I can’t always tell you what was in the news release I posted yesterday.

One of the things I know best, oddly, is what we don’t do. Michelangelo is credited with saying that when creating a sculpture, he’d start with a block of stone and chip away everything that didn’t look like a horse (or an elephant, or an angel, depending on who’s telling the story). When I worked answering our hotline, I found that many calls and emails were “wrong numbers” – people contacting us for things we don’t do. For example, if you can’t renew your license plates because you didn’t get an emissions test for your vehicle, you’ll need to contact your state transportation or environmental department, not US EPA.

When I was invited to write for this blog, I decided to repair my ignorance. I plan to find out about some of the things that EPA does and tell about them as plainly as I can. It’s sort of the “inside outsider” approach. I’ll also do some sculpting and tell you about a few things you might think we handle, but we really don’t.