Noticed a few weeks back where you climbed Old Rag Mountain in the Shenandoah National Park on a Sunday with your press aide, a reporter from the New York Times, and some National Park Service personnel.
It certainly befit your image as a hard-charging executive into vigorous outdoor activity as one would expect a former REI president, banker and engineer to be. That you are successful, smart and talented cannot be questioned.
How attuned you are to the politics of the Interior Department, both internal
and external, is another question entirely. Candidly, your lack of any
experience in the political world would have disqualified you in my book,
but now that you’re there in the interests of you having a successful tenure
here is some unsolicited advice:
1. Pick the brains of your predecessors. There’s no substitute for experience and there is a wealth of it in your predecessors, both Republicans and Democrats. Look at former secretaries as a Club and a talent pool to be tapped and develop relationships with all of them. Bruce Babbitt, Cecil Andrus, Ken Salazar, Dirk Kempthorne, Gail Norton are all individuals who can and will give discreet counsel if asked.
2. Be aware of fiefdom agendas. Interior is a collection of fiefdoms all
fighting for your ear and your favor, especially at budget time. Many are in actuality run by career bureaucrats who have seen secretaries and political appointees come and go, but they remain and stay focused on their agency goals. You may have liked the symbolism of climbing Old Rag because of the image enhancement it conveyed to the public. I did not because it made me wonder if you were not already being entrapped by the Park Service.
There’s an old saying in politics, “it’s your friends, not your enemies,
whom most often do you in.” Governor Andrus was constantly running into “land mines” being laid for him by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one of the fiefdoms that simply decided he was not pure enough on their issues.
3. Fire someone right away and make it stick. There’ll be plenty of candidates but until you demonstrate to the bureaucracy that you know how to fire someone for incompetence and make it stick you’ll not really command respect. Real leaders are not just loved, they are also feared. It takes real skill to fire someone in the federal service given the layers of civil service rules and regulations. It’s easy in the private sector, almost impossible in the public sector.
4. Recognize and embrace Interior’s revenue generation activities. Interior is one of the few federal agencies that generates real money for the treasury – from grazing leases to off-shore oil and gas drilling activities, to coal production to Park fees – there’s a vast gamut of money generators, and a major part of your job is to keep the ka-ching going. Hence, decisions you make on tough issues from oil pipeline permits to the regulations governing “fracturing” on the public lands have to balance the environmental concerns against the economic necessities. Trying to strike the right balance is the challenge.
5. Cultivate western governors. Interior is the agency in many western states and you can make real allies out of western governors if you take time to learn about their concerns and keep in constant contact with them.
6. Develop a Critical Issues Management system and focus your time on just those top five issues. You decide what those five are to the extent the White House will let you and then focus on solving the challenges. Yes, current events, something like an especially bad fire season, can divert you, but try to minimize such diversions.
7. Get a handle on and reorganize the Bureau of Indian Affairs. President Obama is the most Native American friendly president in history. This gives you an unprecedented opportunity to sink your teeth into badly needed reforms in one of the historically most poorly run fiefdoms within the department. Virtually every Interior secretary in modern times has been aware of the many problems within the BIA and has chosen to take the “keep the lid on” approach rather than seek real reform. You and President Obama can change that to the benefit of both the taxpayer and the many poorly served Native American tribes. For starters take a look at the success of many of the Alaska Native Regional Corporations to see if that model cannot in a modified form be transferred to the Lower 48.
You do these seven, Secretary Jewell, and you’ll be a successful Interior
secretary. With respect and best wishes. . . .