About the author: Marcus Peacock is EPA’s Deputy Administrator.
I went to a baseball game last night. The Washington Nationals put on the worst performance I have ever witnessed by a Major League Baseball team. The Washington Post noted the final score, 12 – 2, while suggesting a “rare brand of unwatchable baseball” scarcely articulated how the Nationals “failed to perform in almost any capacity.”
What made it so bad? It was not errors. The Nats only made one error. The problem was an almost palpable lack of attention to detail – a lack of caring about the small things. I saw it the moment I sat down. How often, for instance, do you see a catcher overthrow the second basemen after the pitcher has thrown his last warm-up pitch? How about an infielder trying to flip a foul ball to fans in the stands – and coming up 10 feet short?
These were very small things and made no difference in the substance of the game. But when I saw both these things happen within the first few minutes I got a bad feeling about where the team was headed. What followed was a bevy of small things that, when accumulated, did matter. A pitcher, forgetting they had their foot on the rubber and then taking it off (balking in a run). An outfielder overthrowing a cutoff man. A pitcher failing to backup a play (another run). A batter failing to get a bunt down. An infielder shrugging at a sharp grounder that a diving glove might have knocked down. What came through – what became painfully obvious – was that on this night, for whatever reason, a few Nats were not playing at 100 percent. 90 percent seemed acceptable.
When you play 90 percent against a team that is playing 100 percent it doesn’t matter how much skill you have, you are going to get buried.
Mistakes happen, but when a person doesn’t care about whether they make a mistake, even a small one, really bad things will eventually happen. A ball club that doesn’t care eventually loses ball games. An EPA that doesn’t care means we will eventually have more contaminated water, dirty air, and abandoned dumps.
Right now this Agency is on top of its game. We consistently score near or at the top of all federal agencies in virtually every independent review of our operations. (I just found out today we got an “A+” on the latest financial and computer security scorecard issued by a committee in the US House of Representatives.) But to stay on top of our game – to consistently be the very best – we need to keep caring. We need to sweat the small stuff.