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November 29, 2007

Guest Blog: Who Do You Work For?

Stan Meiburg is the Deputy Regional Administrator in EPA's Atlanta office. He is on detail to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I asked him to share his thoughts for today's post.

Stan Meiburg “Who do you work for?”

I get this question all the time in my role as EPA liaison to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, known by most people as CDC.

It's natural for people to assume your opinions will reflect where you work. Rufus Miles, Princeton professor and director of the Bureau of the Budget in the Johnson Administration, wrote a professional article about it. The summary of Miles' Law is, “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

After 29 years I now have a chance to look at EPA from a different “seat”. I've learned several things. One is that non-regulatory agencies have a different perspective. Training, communication and applied research are especially valued here. Another is that CDC has much to teach. Some of the world's best health expertise resides in Atlanta. In a typical week, I get to work with experts on such things as anthrax, cholera, radiation, pandemic flu, and the health effects of pollution.

There are countless opportunities for collaboration with EPA. Many are already underway, connecting environmental and public health data, researching toxic chemicals, and preparing for and responding to emergencies. EPA benefits enormously from these collaborations.  Being in the middle of this is exciting and a great opportunity.

It works the other way too. I've seen CDC struggle just like EPA does to build a responsive organization, promote innovation, retain expertise when key personnel retire, measure progress, and step up when things go wrong. EPA and CDC don't always agree, and even world class expertise can't prevent every problem of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and occasional hard-headedness.

Core principles apply no matter where you work: tell the truth, treat people with respect, listen well to others; challenge your assumptions, define success, measure your progress, own up to mistakes, maintain high standards, cherish your values. None of these principles comes with an organizational label.

So who do you work for? Many people want to uphold and defend their agencies. This is a noble sentiment. But loyalty to an organization need not be blind. The best leaders know they don't know everything. By collaborating with others, they can tap into strengths that make their own organizations stronger and, in the case of EPA and CDC, better able to serve the public.

That's who I want to work for!

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