Environmental & Safety Issues: EPA Administrator Resigns - Whoever said public administration was easy?
Graham Allison wrote in 1980, "public and private management are the same in all unimportant ways." His point was to warn against analyzing and attempting to understand the action of public administrators within the framework of private enterprise. It was his opinion that public and private administration aren't the same because they deal with very different types of problems and situations.
Allison argued that most public administrators do not control some of the major things that are taken for granted in the private sector. For example, most public administrators do not establish and/or select their agency's strategic missions or goals. Most of these goals have been pre-determined through legislation. In addition, public administrators do not have as much flexibility in choosing the personnel within their department. There are strict governmental rules that make it very difficult to change personnel.
Likewise, most government agencies are designed to deal with wicked problems (problems with no easily identifiable solution) that private enterprise wouldn't touch because there is no easily identifiable way to profit from the venture. The truth of the matter is that there is no direct profit in administering programs that are, by design, conditioned to deal with wicked social problems.
An unfortunate result of viewing public and private management within a similar framework by using private based outcomes to assess public progress is an incomplete understanding of the function and procedural differences between the two. This myopic view of public administration has had a compounding effect on the level of trust afforded to public agencies-and without trust-not much can get accomplished. As a result and contrary to common belief, this positions public administrators as having one of the most difficult jobs in the United States. To be successful they must master balancing the political ideologies of the current administration, the legislative agenda (from which they may have had no influence), enforcement initiatives and dealing with general public mistrust.
During Christine Whitman's tenure as EPA Administrator, there are a number of examples of conflicting political and administrative differences on issues of clean water, air and waste cleanup. For example, early in Whitman's tenure she stated that one of her goals in directing the EPA would be to address the issue of global warming by confronting carbon dioxide emissions. Conversely, and around that same time, Secretary of State Colin Powell and others were informing the international community that the U.S. would not be taking part in the largest worldwide initiative to curb and control carbon dioxide emissions-the Kyoto Protocol. As a result, the U.S. chose a political position on the global warming issue unsubstantiating Whitman's initial goals.
In addition to political and administrative differences, EPA enforcement was down nearly 42% in 2002. Although this may have nothing to do with pollution reduction, it is a significant indicator used by the public to measure how serious the EPA is in reducing pollution through deterrent mechanisms such as enforcement. All of this has created a perception of Whitman being one of the weakest EPA Administrators since EPA's inception in 1970.
In her defense, the debilitating EPA record over the past two-years is not as much of an indication of the efforts made as it is a result of the economic pressures faced by the U.S. and the political direction of the White House. Other than the "school bus emission standard," nearly every new environmental program the EPA took on either was delayed or negotiated to a point of being completely insignificant.
There is no doubt that many will read Whitman's resignation letter and be convinced that her reason for leaving is to spend more time with her husband, and this may be true to some extent. However, this reason is unsettling primarily because of Whitman's assumed prior knowledge, as former governor of New Jersey, of the level of commitment required of public servants. It seems she resigned for other reasons and by doing so supplemented even more questions about the Bush Administration's position on the environment and their support of the EPA's function and purpose.
This situation augments the conviction that politics and administration cannot be separated. In this case, it is reasonable to assume that the White House recognized the precarious situation that emerged from an emaciated environmental agenda and responded politically by imposing a scapegoat and deciding to make a change in EPA leadership.