In Need of Some Guidance

About the author: Barbara Hostage is the Director of the Policy Analysis and Regulatory Management Staff in the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. She has been with EPA for 30 years, spending most of those 30 years involved in EPA rulemakings.

Anyone who’s ever worked with a real estate agent knows that it helps to let them know what you want. For example, if you’re looking for a three bedroom ranch on a quiet street, you should say so, or else you’ll spend a lot of time driving to five bedroom colonials next to busy shopping malls. There are a lot of houses out there and a lot of factors to consider. The more guidance you provide, the more effective your search becomes.

It’s a simple idea: providing guidance early leads to more effective work. It’s a good rule to follow when working with a real estate agent, hair stylist, or mechanic. It’s also a principle that we try to incorporate into our work here at EPA.

I help EPA put this principle into practice by arranging Early Guidance Meetings for my office. Developing an action (such as a regulation) is a detailed process. At the beginning of the process, a workgroup that includes all relevant parts of EPA is formed. The workgroup then proceeds to investigate the topic and identify what may need to be done. It is during this early phase that an EPA workgroup will turn to EPA senior managers for guidance…hence the name “Early Guidance Meeting.” In these meetings, senior managers help the workgroup identify priorities and establish expectations. Getting senior managers involved early in the process helps the workgroup avoid missteps and dead ends, which leads to a quicker and more efficient process.

It’s a simple step, but I’m convinced that these meetings make us a better agency. Early Guidance Meetings save taxpayers’ money by minimizing the amount of time spent pursuing dead ends, documenting decisions in case we need to revisit them later on, and completing regulations in a timelier manner. It’s only logical: a better process produces better actions. And during the early phases of the process – when a workgroup is looking for some ”warmer/colder” advice to nudge them in the right direction – a little guidance can go a long way.

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