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My Farewell

2009 January 16

Official portrait of EPA Deputy Administrator Marcus PeacockMarcus Peacock is EPA’s Deputy Administrator. This speech was written a year ago to be delivered next week. It didn’t need to be changed one whit.

A teacher once asked her third grade class if any of the students had heard of Julius Caesar. “Yes,” said one girl in the back of the classroom. “What do you know about him?” the teacher asked. “Well, I know he lived a long time ago and he was really important.” “Anything else?” the teacher prodded. “Yeah, he gave really long speeches . . . and they killed him.”


I don’t intend to talk for long.

For over three years I’ve been in charge of making EPA run better. I think it’s the best job I’ll ever have. It’s tough to say ‘good-bye.’

It’s been an exciting 42 months. First we set up a system for governing at the ‘corporate’ level by creating quarterly management reports and meetings. Building off this I believe we have become the best-managed Agency in the Cabinet. Look at what we did in 2008 alone. We were:

  • the second Agency to achieve, and keep, the highest possible score on the President’s Management Agenda
  • the only Agency to create a new organization, the Program Analysis Division, whose full-time job is to look for ways to improve operations and outcomes.
  • one of a few agencies to systematically capture, disseminate, and validate best practices;
  • the first Agency to internally broadcast, live, regular senior management progress meetings;
  • the only Agency I know of to have our senior career managers regularly meet to make decisions regarding improving our operations and management systems;
  • and the first federal Agency to win the President’s Quality Award for overall management back-to-back.

Part of this success is due to the fact we used measures to manage rather than just using them to report. Since 2005 we’ve reduced the number of measures by 20 percent making those that remain more vital. In 2008:

  • EPA, for the first time, corralled all our performance measures into one central repository;
  • all EPA offices were able to access all our measures electronically and some offices were able to create tailored electronic dashboards; and
  • managers were not slaves to measures but constantly asked the key question, “What are the outcomes we are really trying to achieve?”

We accomplished these things because hundreds of people at this Agency understand that when EPA works better, public health and the environment improve faster. Management initiatives are gobbledygook unless they lead to cleaner air, water, and/or land. It’s that simple.

I’ll miss working on EPA’s operations and on EPA’s mission. But most of all, I’ll miss working with people who get up every morning, look themselves in the mirror and ask, “How can I improve what we do today?”

Thanks and farewell.

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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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Joan permalink
    January 16, 2009

    Thanks, Marcus, for all you’ve done. I’ll miss your unique voice on this blog.
    And, the comment you sent to be included in the retirement book for a senior EPA scientist could be applied here:
    You know you have made a difference.

  2. Katie Beam permalink
    January 16, 2009

    Marcus, you’ve done so much for EPA. I’m sorry to hear that you are leaving. You came to Region 5 in 2006 or 2007 and I was impressed by your candor and go-get-‘em attitude. EPA is better off thanks to you. May you succeed in your future endeavors. Best wishes to you!

    -former EPA employee

  3. Steve permalink
    January 16, 2009

    I have been a critic of the Bush EPA for many years now, and disagreed with many, if not most, of the political decisions made by the Agency during this period. As a native Californian, I can say that the California decision especially rankled.

    Having said that, as an EPA-watcher I have been impressed with your work, Mr. Peacock. Impressed by your efforts to improve operations and outcomes; impressed by your push to have the decision-making process be more transparent; impressed by your embrace of best practices; and impressed by your fearlessness about technology.

    I’m obviously not the only one. Witness the fact that EPA recently won the Malcolm Baldridge Quality award — and is the only agency ever to win two years in a row.

    Perhaps most impressive to me was your willingness to open up the Agency to the blogosphere — a high risk proposition, given the incendiary nature of so many EPA decisions. But you’re right: the future is here, and Federal agencies need to embrace the new communication styles or else become irrelevant.

    Finally, regarding your own blog posts, I found most of them to be wonderful reading. You have a nice economy of language, and your points are always clearly made. I’ll note that my favorites were the ones where you reinforced your message by sharing something about yourself or your family. While so many public officials would prefer to hide behind the anonymity that a computer affords, your little vignettes about your kids, your mother — even your dog — gave life to your posts and made them more powerful as a result.

    I particularly liked that one story you told about how you’ve gone camping in a different national park each year for the last two decades with your two grad school buddies, and how — even though that one guy can’t make campground chili worth a damn but always tries anyway — it is a great way to experience all that America’s outdoors has to offer, and how being out in the wilderness in such a wide variety of places has informed your own environmental politics. That single blog inspired me to think that I should do something like that too; perhaps we all should.

    Thanks for your service to EPA, Mr. Peacock, and to the nation. As Joan, above, says, “You have made a difference.”

  4. Jean permalink
    January 19, 2009

    May you succeed in your future endeavors. Best wishes to you! ~Jean

  5. Woody Pfister permalink
    January 20, 2009

    Too bad, the new Administration didn’t keep you around. Instead they nominate a Blagojevich appointee to head the Office of Air:

    Douglas P. Scott, Director
    Doug Scott was appointed Director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency effective July 1, 2005 by Governor Rod Blagojevich.

    In announcing the appointment, Governor Blagojevich said he was confident Director Scott will be “an energetic and innovative advocate for public health and the environment.”

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