ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

April 1998


Forging New Ways To Work

Celebrating Success

JCPenney Spells Out A METHOD For Success

Roberts Express Delivers CATs

Stories Of The Future

Taxes, Oscars And Performance Appraisals


Quality, Wherefore Art Thou?
by Peter Block

The Bottom Line Benefits Of Participation
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review


Stories Of The Future
Disasters, Funding and Politics at the EPA

The uncertainties for most organizations are admittedly serious, but when pitted against environmental disasters and ax-wielding budget hawks, the importance for the EPA to look ahead becomes remarkably clear. The following synopses are the result of the scenario planning process the EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) utilized in preparing for an ever more uncertain future.

o "Dog Eat Dog World" examines the issues around the ORD's role as an administrator of outside scientists vs. itself being a science source. Imagine - ORD scientists are freed of administrative duties to pursue a more "pure science" role. This leads to high autonomy among scientists, but also to increased internal competition for limited funds; peers are seen as enemies and external resources as competition. Fiefdoms and turf barriers emerge, resulting in major environmental interest gaps and negatively affecting responsiveness to new needs. Meanwhile, the task of administering external research falls to less science-minded ORD staff - you have non-scientists managing the multimillion dollar efforts of scientists. The rest of the EPA begins to question ORD's relevance. With nonscientific staff rather than scientists at the helm, new external research tends to be sought as a result of political pressure or imminent environmental threat, rather than as a proactive or preventive step. The forces of internal vs. external and administrative vs. scientific are, ultimately, shown to greatly diminish the effectiveness and credibility of the ORD and the EPA as a whole.

o "Darwin's Revenge" deals with the ever-present funding quandary. What if - in a period of rampant federal budget cutting, the EPA manages to survive, but under extremely tight funding restraints? Seeking good "bang for the buck" the ORD puts almost their entire budget into external research, thereby controlling their own cost picture. ORD scientific staff is demoralized. A "quick-win" mentality emerges because results are key. Research capable of showing early results and generating public and political support is favored over less popular but perhaps more imperative projects from a long-term perspective. ORD's geographically-driven work earns the reputation of being scientifically subjective, meanwhile ORD's "quick on the draw" approach makes some people wonder who the department's customer really is. ORD is seen as a responsive self-promoter rather than the forward thinking public servant it was hired to be. ORD scientists, now mere administrators of external research, concur, "We used to do environmental science here. Now we fund whatever is politically expedient at the moment." On the public front there is now consensus that ORD funds the best research on environmental threats in the world.

o "False Hero" describes events following a true environmental disaster. Causing significant economic damage, the emergency triggers overwhelming public concern and an unprecedented outpouring of public support for the EPA. A sudden, "blank check" funding mentality (and reality) emerges. Finally the ORD has the funding it deserves. Now what? Several surprises. The biggest challenge (funding) now solved; the ORD is hard-pressed to make any changes. New dollars tend to be channeled into existing, internal, ongoing research rather than toward emerging needs and new science areas. Great new scientific talent is attracted to the ORD, but they, too, are not focused on new research opportunities. The pressure to perform - to deliver results - is now diminished. The sense of urgency is gone. The ORD is now a PR machine. It finds itself increasingly going in different directions from the EPA, with little or no interaction with program and field offices. What does this mean for the future?

o "Paper Tiger" is a story about what happens when a sudden demand for measurable results - and the inability to satisfy the demand - causes ORD to lose significant funding. ORD is left with no external budget and little internal money. Fearing job cuts, many people leave. Still, cuts are made. Only a shell of ORD remains. Contract personnel and part-timers replace much of the full-time staff. ORD gets younger and the skill mix changes. ORD becomes an information clearinghouse, advisor and coordinator for state and local environmental agencies. Community-based initiatives become the newest opportunity for the ORD, as well as an increased role as reviewer and analyzer of other people's data. Interactive and facilitator skills begin to balance the scientific. ORD assumes the role of "facilitator" on health research issues, gaining a reputation as a group who brings others together in effective ways. This propels ORD to a position as the most visible and widely respected part of EPA. Unfortunately, it's science staff, now seeing themselves as mere "paper pushers" is left demoralized.

April '98 News for a Change | Email Editor


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