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“Policies are no good unless there is an implementation strategy to carry them out,” ADM Watkins

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Admiral James Watkins at the podium at the Marine Technology Society

At the May 15, 2010 Marine Technology Society meeting, when discussing the vast work that has occured over the years on ocean policy, ADM James Watkins stated “Policies are no good unless there is an implementation strategy to carry them out.”


On Saturday May 15, 2010 at the Navy Heritage Center in Washington, D.C., a newly reinvigorated Marine Technology Society (MTS) held a meeting to kickoff the first “Admiral James D. Watkins Honorary Lecture,” so named in honor of ADM Watkins, former Chief of Naval Operations, Secretary of Energy and Chair of the HIV/AIDS commission. The lecture series is likely tied not to those impressive accomplishments but more for his role as the Chair of the Bush Administration’s Commission on Ocean Policy and later, merging with Leon Panetta’s work at The Pew Trusts, as the co-chair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative (JOCI). 

 Before Dr. Rick Spinrad, who recently retired from NOAA to take a position at Oregon State University, made his remarks as the first lecturer in the newly named Admiral James D. Watkins Honorary Lecture series, ADM Watkins made a few remarks himself. In addition to a call for the MTS to increase its input and vocal participation in policy matters in our nation’s capital, ADM Watkins stated “Policies are no good unless there is an implementation strategy to carry them out.” 

 It is the implementation of policy that is the most difficult and critical phase of effective ocean governance. With the subsidence of catastrophic ocean accidents we will soon be on the verge of this Administration’s rollout of its policies for our oceans and coasts. Is the ocean community ready to move forward? 

When seeking input from the public during the public meetings when the Obama Administration Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force was drafting their interim report, a clear call for recommendations on an implementation strategy was sought, but little, boarding on none, was received from the community of ocean experts. That opportunity missed, we need to now sharpen our pencils and draw up plans that we think would move policies forward. For instance, calls for a policy that includes better regulation of offshore drilling or a policy that calls for a more robust spill response capability are the easy part. Of course we want to protect our oceans through responsible oversight and also be ready to respond if our best engineering plans fail and another spill occurs. The hard part, and the phase that will only be optimized if the top people in multiple disciplines pull together, will be the implementation. What specifically should the steps be, and what are the funding streams that would support these efforts? And while we conduct this mental exercise, don’t forget the tight economic constraints we operate under nationally, so developing cost-efficient implementation steps are a must-do

 Just as there is a call for bright people to help stop the ongoing oil leak at the Deepwater Horizon drilling site, a call that has mobilized many experts, we need to also put our collective strengths together and be ready to contribute a host of implementation strategies that will move forward a range of ocean and coastal issues. Start a personal list of good ideas now – the White House ocean policy announcement will be here sooner than later – and we shouldn’t wait to think about an optimized implementation plans. As a professional community of policy, budget, engineering, science and management experts we need to be ready to roll. 

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.


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