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Meeting of the EPA Senior Executive Service, Dulles, Virginia

Remarks of Governor Christine Todd Whitman,
Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
at a meeting of the
EPA Senior Executive Service
Dulles, Virginia

May 31, 2001

Thank you, Dave (O’Connor), for that introduction. It’s a pleasure to be with all of you today.

Before I say anything else I want to say to each of you here: “Thank you.” Thank you for your dedication to the EPA. Thank you for the expertise and experience you bring to our Agency. And thank you for your service to our country.

You have devoted your careers – your lives – to preserving and protecting the environment. I am proud to be working with you to advance our Agency’s mission and I look forward to the months and years ahead – a time that will be filled with great challenge, real opportunity, and much success.

The past four months have been, for me, quite an experience. When I was governor of New Jersey, I used to say that I had the best job in America – and I did. As a governor, you can make a real difference, every day, in the lives of the people of your state. Being governor is stimulating, energizing, and fulfilling. It’s not something one gives up lightly.

After President Bush was elected, there was lots of speculation in the New Jersey media about whether I wanted to be named an ambassador to this country or secretary of that department or some other job. When I read those articles, I always laughed to myself. I knew – even if the media didn’t – that I was very happy where I was.

So when I was told that the President-elect wanted to talk to me about heading the EPA, I had some thinking to do. As someone who cares deeply about the environment, I knew that this job would give me the opportunity to do good things in an area that is very important to me. But I also knew, from my time as governor, just how contentious the environmental debate could become.

The passion so many bring to these issues – on all sides – often leads to very heated discussions which occasionally degenerate into personal attacks. But I believed then, and do now, that the potential to make a meaningful contribution to the health of our environment more than overrode the possibility of some unpleasantness, so I agreed to serve.

I see my role as EPA administrator as being on the front lines of the battle, right there in the thick of things. Within the Bush Administration, I believe it’s my duty to represent the larger interests of the environment, to ensure that every policy decision that has an affect on America’s air, water, and land includes a full consideration of and appreciation for the environmental aspects.

I have found out already that when you’re in the midst of the fray, you can get a little muddy – and even, at times, a little bloody. But that’s what I expected from my Cabinet members when I was governor and I know that’s what President Bush expects of me.

Last week, for example, I cut short my visit to Stockholm to return to Washington for a meeting of the Cabinet task force on global climate change, even though that meant arriving here at 2 am. As long as I’m administrator, the EPA is going to be at the table, every time.

I firmly believe – and I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t – that the President is a friend of the environment. I was at the White House during Earth Week to help the President honor this year’s Presidential Environmental Youth Award winners. I should mention that was the first time in 8 years that a president has done that. But in his remarks, the President reminded everyone present that for those who love the land, every day is Earth Day. That’s certainly true at the EPA.

I said at my confirmation hearing that I had a very simple goal for my tenure here. I want to leave America’s air cleaner, water purer, and land better protected than it was when I started. While that sounds like a simple goal, achieving it is anything but – as you know better than anyone.

But as tough as that goal is to meet, it seems it’s almost tougher to develop a set of performance standards by which environmental progress can be measured. With your help, I am determined to do that. It’s time our Agency has a clear set of environmental benchmarks against which to measure our progress, so that we can know – and, more important, so the American people can know – just exactly what is the condition of our environment.

For the past thirty years, this Agency has fought the good fight – and has won so many important victories. America has made enormous progress, not just in changing practices, but in changing attitudes. You have helped bring America to the threshold of a new generation of environmental progress – a time in which we must tackle a new set of challenges.

To meet these challenges we will have to build on the successes of the past. We will have to take a new look at how we can make our partnerships more effective, our regulatory structure more responsive, our innovations more creative, and our performance standards more accepted. Together, as a team, we will have to meet the new challenges we face by finding new ways of doing things – not just for the sake of change but for the sake of progress.

The topics you are discussing at this meeting are all key to successfully creating and managing change. You and I both know that our success depends on our ability to take partnership to the next level. We know that bold innovation is another necessary ingredient of success, just as is e-government transformation.

The presentations I heard a little earlier give me a great sense of optimism for our ability to meet the new demands we face as an Agency. I look forward to receiving the full report of all your hard work after this meeting concludes.

Before I leave, however, I do want to touch for a moment on the one topic you’re considering that I didn’t mention a moment ago – EPA’s human capital needs. An organization is only as good as its people. We need to make certain we have the people we need to be the best we can be.

Toward that end, I have three announcements and a request.

First, I know how hard many of you have been working to develop EPA’s Human Capital Strategic Plan. Of course, we won’t be able to implement this plan overnight. But there is something we can get started on right away – making sure that our Agency has people who are trained to assume the highest levels of responsibility in our organization. That’s why today I am announcing that we will reestablish the SES Candidate program.

Next, I am pleased to announce that I am lifting the hiring freeze on all management positions. By lifting this freeze, you will be able to fill existing vacancies, as well as begin planning for expected departures. This will help provide for smoother transitions and a measure of continuity in the management ranks.

Finally, I am announcing today the formation of a task force to resolve the current backlog of Title VI civil rights complaints. This backlog is troubling to me, as I’m sure it is to you. It’s time to correct it.

OECA (Office for Enforcement and Compliance Assistance) will take the lead, with coordination by OCR (Office of Civil Rights). Gail Ginsburg, Region 5's regional counsel, has agreed to head up this effort.

In order for the task force to do its job, we will need your help. In the next few weeks, many of you will be asked to make some of your best staff available – on a full-time basis – to help the task force meet its mission. I am asking you today to provide Gail and her team with the full cooperation they need to get the job done. This is too important to do otherwise.

I have no doubt whatsoever that we in this Agency have the ability and the commitment to succeed – to embrace change and make it work for us. I intend to give you the tools you need to make this happen. I will be there fighting for you and with you to ensure that our Agency honors its proud legacy of accomplishment by reaching new levels of achievement.

There aren’t many people who can say that the work they do will make the world a truly better place, not just tomorrow, but for generations to come. Each of us here today has that opportunity. That’s what makes our jobs as rewarding and fulfilling as they are. Let’s make the most of it.

Thank you.