Another First

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

Loretta Lynn once mused — to paraphrase — while everyone wants to go to heaven, nobody wants to make the trip.

It may not be everyone’s definition of heaven, but I carry around a punch list of my goals for 2008. It comprises ten numbered items.  When a goal is reached, I punch a hole in the list next to the appropriate number.

I say it is the list of my goals, but it is really a list of goals for a large team of people at the Environmental Protection Agency.  There is nothing on this list I could do alone.  For instance, I have little idea how to establish a best practices system or create an electronic dashboard.  Nonetheless, I am able to punch items off the list because people are willing to do the hard work necessary to make EPA a better agency and better protect human health and the environment.

I sat down with some of these team members almost a year ago and went through the goals.  When I got to item number 7, there was a groan.  Number 7 seemed impossible.  It was something that no agency had ever achieved and, it seemed likely, no agency ever would achieve.  I said, “That’s okay, we’ll leave it on the list and consider it a stretch goal.”

You see, in the many years it’s been available, only two agencies have ever won the President’s Quality Award for Overall Management Excellence. Think of it as a supercharged Malcolm Baldridge Award for the federal government.  It’s not like winning an Olympic Medal.Two statues of crystal eagles  It’s more like winning 8 gold medals all at once.  It’s possible, but very rare.  And, certainly, no agency has ever won this award two years in a row.

And yet, last night, thanks to this team of EPA employees — employees who not only wanted to go to heaven, but were willing to take the trip — I took my hole puncher and punched out item number 7.  EPA won the President’s Quality Award for Overall Management . . .again.

Of  all the Cabinet and Cabinet rank agencies, EPA is the:

  • first to publish quarterly performance data;
  • first to have an ongoing public blog;
  • first to broadcast management meetings throughout the agency;
  • first to achieve and maintain the highest possible rating on the President’s Management Agenda; and, now,
  • first to receive the top award for management excellence . . . back-to-back.

Not a bad pattern to keep going.

(Find out more about how we did it at