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July 2007

July 31, 2007

Why Does EPA Refer So Many Enforcement Cases in September?

have been visiting each EPA office talking about the new performance management system. After a presentation in Kansas City, one employee asked, “This is great for those of us here, but how do you plan to let everyone in the agency know about this?” Well, that is a good question. In fact, there should be a way to let everyone know what we are doing to improve EPA's performance.

For starters, this blog should help do that. But also, for the first time, EPA now provides our Quarterly Management Report (QMR) to the public. That is important because while EPA issues many performance reports we now have one that can be used on a regular basis, by anyone, to see how we are doing and discover new ways of doing things better.

For example, EPA's enforcement office routinely sends requests to take legal action against polluters to the Department of Justice for approval. By tracking how many referrals we send to Justice in the QMR, we found that we typically send about seven times as many referrals to the Department of Justice in the fourth quarter of the year as in the first quarter. And most of these are in September. This seems to largely happen out of habit. Like many people, our lawyers wait to finish off work at the end of the year. However, this habit causes temporary backlogs at Justice late in the year. EPA is now working to “level” the workload throughout the year, and we expect it to result in faster turnaround times. Changing this one work practice means we can take faster action to protect human health and the environment.

bar chart showing Civil Referrals in Fiscal Year 06: First quarter, 22. Second quarter, 52. Third quarter, 60. Fourth quarter, 153.

Measures for reporting don't mean much. Measures for managing are vital. The QMR lets us use measures to manage.

July 26, 2007

I've a Question

I was chit chatting at a recent wedding reception.  I didn't really know who I was talking to and it came out that I was the Chief Operating Officer at EPA.  One of my slightly tipsy new friends asked how many people work at EPA.  I said about 17,000.  “17,000!” he exclaimed, “What the hell are 17,000 people doing every day?”

It's a fair question and one I hope to eventually answer in this blog I am inaugurating today.  But not quite yet.  There are too many other questions that need to be answered.  For instance:

  • why does EPA refer more than seven times more civil enforcement cases to the Department of Justice in the last quarter of the year versus the first quarter of the year;
  • why are EPA officials in Kansas City learning Japanese;
  • what do (1) the death of Clarence Buckingham, (2) EPA's Government Performance Results and Accountability reports, and (3) the TV show “Married With Children” have in common;
  • why does a senior EPA official assiduously avoid discussing how much time it takes EPA to respond to letters from Congress;
  • how did freeing Paris save EPA hundreds of thousands of dollars;
  • why did EPA help Texas school districts buy hundreds of new school buses;
  • why did it take two years to find a half a ton of mercury;
  • how can EPA inspectors visit twice as many facilities in the same amount of time;
  • why did Equal Employment Opportunity complaints at EPA drop 25% in one year; and
  • why is this man so happy?


man smiling