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Memo to Future Deputies

2008 November 4

About the author: Marcus Peacock is EPA’s Deputy Administrator.

Congratulations. Here are ten suggestions from a former Deputy:

1. Be your agency’s Chief Operating Officer. No one else has the scope of authority to do this job.
2. Listen. Within the first 15 days interview 10 to 20 people who know the agency well. Ask them:

  • What are the best things about the agency?
  • What are the top few things that should be changed?
  • Who are the most respected people in the agency? (Make sure you interview these people.)
  • If you were in my shoes, what would you work on?
  • What are the major obstacles to successfully finishing the work you suggest and how can they be overcome?

3. Plan. Take what you learned from the interviews to your boss. With your boss, write down what you will accomplish in your first year. Include items 4 through 8 below. Include specific mid-term goals. This is your personal performance plan. Your inbox will relentlessly try and knock you off your plan. Don’t let it.
4. Learn. Have key agency performance measures reported to you at least every quarter (shoot for every week). The measures must reflect the President’s priorities. After two reporting cycles you will know more about the agency than anyone else.
5. Get help. Establish a team that can help you interpret the performance data. They should look for trends, anomalies, and best practices.
6. Manage. Regularly meet with the head of every major office (e.g., the Under Secretaries) to review the office’s performance. Use performance data to improve operations, formulate budgets and make policy decisions. Measures for reporting don’t mean much. Measures for managing are vital.
7. Motivate. Link awards, promotions, pay increases, bonuses, and other recognition to the agency’s performance. Personally recognize people who exceed expectations.
8. Show the world. Publicly release performance data at least every quarter (shoot for every week). Accountability is your best friend.
9. Be honest. In Washington DC, reputation is the coin of the realm.
10. Have a blast.

One last thing, if a former Deputy calls, always take the call.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. Lina-EPA permalink*
    November 4, 2008

    Good tips for any successful plan of action. Hope more people listen (or read).

  2. Jeffrey Levy, Greenversations Editor permalink*
    November 5, 2008

    Great ideas, Marcus. How about adding “modernize policy making via Web 2.0 tools?” ;)

  3. Marcus permalink
    November 5, 2008

    That’s a good one, but 10 is such a nice round number.

  4. Matt B. permalink
    November 5, 2008

    This is strategy that would be useful to anyone stepping into any large and complex organization. I printed it out (double-sided of course) and put it in my file of useful stuff. For what its worth I can say that, as an outsider, I have noticed greater transparency and more quantative performance tracking at the EPA over the last few years.

    I hope that the timing of your post is purely coincindental unless it portends bigger and better oportunities.

  5. Bill S. permalink
    November 6, 2008

    This is a valuable although brief insight into what is involved in managing EPA’s day-to-day operations. People who are fond of attacking EPA in this blog and elsewhere may not be aware of all the legal and scientific requirements that the Agency must meet while juggling ferocious objections from industry and public and environmental interest groups as well as obeying orders from the White House that often run against environmental and public health benefits and having to regularly explain its actions and results to hostile congresspeople, and doing all this while running what seems to be a countless and unwieldy collection programs on what is really a small budget when compared to other federal agencies. There’s a lot of talk now about who the next EPA administrator will be, and that person will eventually be taking all the credit or blame for big decisions and whatever achievements or catastrophes that occur. But if Peacock’s description is correct, it is really the deputy administrator who actually runs the show, and that selection should be worth as least as much as the top job.

    This is such an unusual entry for this blog. It’s interesting to speculate on how it got in, but I for one am glad it did.

  6. Marcus permalink
    November 6, 2008

    Thanks Matt. I’ll be leaving the Agency on or about January 20, 2009. After that I plan to be on the Appalation Trail for a bit of a break.

  7. Marcus permalink
    November 6, 2008

    make that “Appalachian Trail.” The Appalation Trail is too far away.

  8. November 10, 2008

    An addendum to number 2…don’t forget the Regional offices/Labs, and don’t forget to include folks of gen-X and younger. The view can be a bit different from outside the beltway as well as when you view the agency through the eyes of someone with 25+ years left in their career.

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