ASQ - Energy and Environmental Division

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would do well to use its considerable clout to lead the regulated community to a new vision of environmental care, one that would clearly benefit both regulated enterprises and the environment. It cannot lead by instituting new programs, incentives or regulatory flexibility but by simply engaging its latent capacity for moral leadership and by proclaiming the desirability and benefits of environmental management systems, performance measurement, and public disclosure. The regulated community would respond to this leadership if benefits and advantages of such measures were clearly and honestly presented. This new message should not be commingled, however, with any of the compliance or enforcement mechanisms that are traditionally used by the agency.

The commingling of elements of these different approaches is the reason that EPA incentive programs of the past (e.g., Environmental Leadership, Project XL) have not been successful on the whole. They have typically attempted to barter higher environmental performance for official recognition or for some minimal form of regulatory flexibility. These undisguised attempts at bribery have not been very convincing in the past and should be avoided. The offers are usually not perceived as being honest and often raise suspicion that they are merely camouflaged ploys in the same old game of "cops and robbers." EPA most often comes across as the enforcer in these programs, and regulated parties perceive that they are being viewed as mere villains being given another chance to redeem themselves. For that reason, most organizations consider such programs belittling and offensive and so opt not to participate.

Rather than creating a new program, EPA might instead consider developing a second nature based on moral leadership through example and on a moral agenda for environmental care, instead of just a legal one. The agency would, in part, transform itself into a proponent and a beacon of environmental excellence for the good that we can all derive from it-not just because the law says so. It could base this new vision on a few key principles for organizations to follow and emulate. These principles would focus broadly on the advantages and benefits of

  • Environmental Management Systems,
  • Performance Measurement, and
  • Public Disclosure.

But would avoid

  • Any new programs,
  • Mandates on how to implement the principles, and
  • Any quid pro quos.

The regulated community wants leadership and inspiration from EPA to motivate it to voluntary action. Regulated entities are eager to be seen as being on the right side of this issue; but they will not follow if the leader is the same old cop that keeps chasing them around the block. They want a leader that motivates-one that is seen in a new light with a new face.

There is great hope in the environmental community that we can harvest the full potential of the progress made on environmental management systems in the 1990s. For this progress to occur, however, EPA has to recognize the critical role it can play, and it has to step up to the plate before we can actualize that potential.


Most industries do a very poor job of collecting knowledge gained from the daily, continuous problem-solving process, which accounts for the majority of organizational learning. The organization is therefore loosing opportunities to capture and pool solutions to often routine activities and gain efficiencies and value-added services.

The rail industry, for example, has undergone numerous organizational changes. Mergers have resulted in a downsized workforce, and hiring of new personnel has been limited. Included in the reengineering of the rail industry is a much diminished research and development capability, thus decreasing the rail companies' ability to generate and capture new knowledge from development and problem-solving activities. As a result, employees are investing time and resources in technical problems that have already been solved by others in their organizations or by other organizations in the industry. An effective knowledge management (KM) system would provide captured knowledge from technical problems already solved.

Many organizations have reorganized effectively by investing in information technology (IT) and KM. Now there are increasingly effective Web-based tools available for use in an organization's Intranet. An Internet Portal (IP), for example, is an entrance to information and knowledge (solutions and best practices) that employees need to support their task or activity at hand. These 'corporate' portals are a single point of access for the pooling, interaction, and distribution of organizational knowledge. Corporate portal technology is being introduced inside the corporate firewall to bring greater order to the ever-increasing amount of information that is so necessary to organizational success. KM and IP are not just fads but an innovative way for engineers and managers to manage information (knowledge) to perform well.

An example of a portal-building product is the Enterprise Information Portal (EIP) software from Hummingbird (www.hummingbird.com). Other examples: K-Station, Lotus (www.lotus.com); SharePoint Portal Server (www.microsoft.com).


It's been said that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. The news coming out of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) at the end of February had the impact of a lion's roar and, for a while, it appeared that quality was a sacrificial lamb. OPM announced on February 26 that the Bush administration planned to abolish the prestigious Presidential Award for Quality in 2002. The Presidential Award for Quality was established during the Reagan administration to recognize federal agencies that improved their productivity and operated effective financial, personnel, and customer service systems. This award is generally equivalent to the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which federal organizations are not eligible to receive at present. The Presidential Award for Quality was first managed by the Federal Quality Institute. The program was turned over to OPM in 1996 when the Federal Quality Institute was eliminated by the Clinton administration.

Ending the Presidential Award for Quality sent a chill through the federal community as a possible indication of diminished commitment to quality by the Bush administration. There were growing fears that this action would perpetuate the unfortunate belief in some circles that government cares less about performance and productivity than organizations in the private sector.

The initial announcement from OPM indicated that the award program would be canceled immediately. In a last-minute change of heart, OPM announced that the Presidential Award for Quality would be continued through 2001 but was noncommittal about the long-term future of the award. OPM acknowledged that it was surprised to learn that several agencies had already invested significant time and resources into awards for 2001. Like the Baldrige Award, the Presidential Award for Quality has a lengthy application and review process and may also include private-sector partners. The Department of Defense, for example, had budgeted funds to cover this year's award costs, estimated to be approximately $600,000. DOD had two winners in 2000 in the "quality improvement" category: the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia and the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development, and Engineering Center at the Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey.

It's ironic that the decision to end or possibly phase out the Presidential Award for Quality came one week after Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr., the new Bush-appointed director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), had sent a letter to agency heads telling them that the "government's record on performance needs to improve.... We must endeavor over the next four years to make dramatic improvements in the management and performance of the federal government." The action regarding the Presidential Award for Quality does not seem to be consistent with that objective.

Experience has shown that recognition of success is a vital element of a quality program. Elimination of the Presidential Award for Quality suggests to federal agencies that their efforts to improve quality and productivity are not important and not worthy of recognition. The Presidential Award for Quality gives testimony to what is right with quality improvement efforts across the federal government. This is not the time to implement such an ill-conceived and ill-advised decision to stifle the growth of quality improvement.

In the next several months, the Government Division of ASQ will be seeking ways to either safeguard the Presidential Award for Quality or to move it under the auspices of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. It is my hope that the Energy and Environmental Division will join with other ASQ divisions to support the Government Division's efforts in that quest.

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