%283%right%When you work in government in Washington, D.C., you can easily lose touch with the very people whose lives you’re trying to improve. Mark Weatherly ’79, deputy associate director for energy, science and water for the federal Office of Management and Budget, has a solution.
"I always encourage people who work for me to try to get out, to remember, yeah, it’s a pain sometimes but not many people get the opportunity to make a difference like this,” he said. “You make calls and judgments that really affect a program and people’s lives. You can lose that hanging out in Washington sometimes.”
From his office across the street from the White House, Weatherly assembles massive budget proposals, analyzes the legislative changes of Congress and monitors the management and operations of federal agencies. He describes his broad job description as a checklist of questions: “Who’s wasting money or has too many staff in agencies? Are they not issuing research grants in a competitive way? Are we not collecting on loans? Are we regulating clean air and clean water in the right way? It’s really a soup-to-nuts kind of thing.”
Weatherly’s recent projects include dispatching a team to investigate the causes of the record blackout that affected much of the eastern United States and trying to figure out what it will take to get the space shuttle program in the air again following the Columbia disaster.
%284%left%Despite daily responsibilities that are daunting, Weatherly tries to bring order and a sense of priorities to projects. “Somebody’s got to try to get all the agencies rowing in the same direction,” he said.
Since he is a career federal official and not a political appointee, Weatherly (as well as his staff) has to adapt to each presidential administration. He said the Bush administration is different from Clinton’s in its emphasis on private-sector models for operating agencies, such as contracting out and quantifying performance whenever possible. The current administration, he said, also has a much more hands-off relationship with Congress.
“You sort of have to adopt the tone of the administration, like in meetings, for example. The Bush administration [people] are sticklers on having meetings on time and not being late,” he said. Among the offices Weatherly pokes his head into are those of former Vice President Al Gore, NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe and U.S. Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham.
Although majoring in philosophy might not be an obvious path to a high-level government administration career, Weatherly said his experience in the major at Colby translated into success in his field. “It all comes down to reasoning ability and ability to argue for and against positions. When I interview people who come here, I don’t ask them about environmental science or the throw weights of rockets. It’s really, does this person have a good logical approach to the job?” He also said the writing skills he learned in Colby philosophy and English classes have been invaluable as he edits memos to political officials and writes letters to Congress.
Weatherly took an optimistic view of the direction of environmental policy under President Bush: “I think this administration is trying hard to balance private interest and concerns with public interest, like in saving endangered species fish in the Mississippi River, for instance. I don’t think it’s quite as bad as some press reports have put out as far as this [administration’s] policy.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” Weatherly said, “mostly because the public at large is a pretty good watchdog these days. I wouldn’t have said that fifteen years ago.” ——Braxton Williams ’00