Many environmental issues transcend jurisdictional and property boundaries. These landscape-scale issues both engage and affect people with widely varying perspectives and purposes. Yet federal agencies have often lacked the decision context and tools to assemble cross-jurisdictional, public-private partnerships to advance environmental and conservation goals. The Interior Department’s Bob Lamb is changing this context. He is transforming the way federal agencies protect the nation’s natural resources, utilizing collaboration rather than conflict to address environmental issues.
Bob Lamb’s organizing principle is that lasting conservation occurs when citizens, non-profit organizations, businesses, and government work together. Collaboration is not a new phenomenon, but Lamb realized the scope, scale and frequency of collaborative efforts were increasing, creating an imperative for the organizational culture of the Department to evolve. Employees needed to understand the value of public-private partnerships and obtain the skills to work more closely with individuals both inside and outside of government.
Bob Lamb’s team analyzed barriers to partnerships, created Web sites to share best practices, clarified the legal underpinnings for collaborative actions, and improved employee training. Word of the team’s work spread to other federal agencies that soon joined the effort.
This grassroots, interagency initiative received a major boost when the President signed an Executive Order entitled “Facilitating Cooperative Conservation” in August 2004. The Order directed the nation’s five agencies involved in natural resources (the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency) to promote citizen involvement and local participation in federal decision making to the fullest extent possible. This Executive Order, in short, endorsed the goal and vision shared by Lamb’s team.
The Executive Order called for a White House Conference on Cooperative Conservation, the first of its kind in nearly 40 years. Lamb helped shape and plan the 2005 conference. He produced, funded and narrated the conference’s keynote film. He led a team that developed a companion book highlighting citizen-led conservation. He harnessed the energy and talent of 34 professional facilitators to serve as volunteer discussion leaders to organize an entire day of shared discussion that generated insights from 1,300 conference participants. The conference marked a milestone in conservation policy and practice in the United States, bringing national attention to cooperative conservation.
From Maine to California, communities and developers, ranchers and farmers, government agencies and corporations are finding common ground as they seek to advance conservation, community well being, and prosperity in the places where they live, work, and relax.
Advancing this public-private conservation framework is the latest chapter in Lamb’s career in federal service, a career marked by creativity, commitment, and leadership. He developed the Interior Department’s strategic human capital plan, which has earned widespread praise linking the agency’s human resources needs to its long-term goals and mission. He instituted financial reforms that helped the Interior Department secure a “clean” financial audit, one of the first four cabinet level agencies to do so. Lamb also created Interior’s National Business Center, a cross-servicing entity that handles payroll, personnel, procurement and other services for Interior bureaus, in addition to providing $200 million in services to other agencies.
This ability to address a myriad of management, budget, and policy issues defines Bob Lamb’s career in federal service. Lamb deserves recognition for ushering in an important new chapter in federal conservation efforts, but his greatest legacy will probably be helping to modernize a major federal agency so that it can more effectively serve the needs of the American people.