May 1996 / NOAA Report
‘This is What Government is All About’
R o n B r o w n w e n t t o t h e N a t i o n a l W e a t h e r S e r v i c e H e a d q u a r t e r s i n January to hear from men and women who had worked day and night accurately forecasting one of the worst blizzards in Washington history. He left the building in high spirits renewed by stories of extraordinary public service. Before getting in his car, he told those with him, “This is what government is really all about.”
This was typical of Ron Brown and his approach to the job of Secretary of Commerce and his other posts during a life committed to public service. He did
not view winning elections or receiving appointments to high positions as important unless they led to one thing: a contributton to making our Nation a better place.
I recall my first meeting with the Secretary, then Chairman of the
Ron Brown’s Lasting Legacy
R o n B r o w n a n d I c o u l d n e v e r r e m e m b e r e x a c t l y w h e r e w e m e t , but we did agree that it was when he ran the Washington Urban League and I worked for the District of Columbia Government. I am very proud that, many years later, he and the President selected me to be part of his team at NOAA. streamlined merit assignment program. Perhaps the most successful and struc- tured partnership initiative in NOAA has occurred in the National Weather Service, where an effective labor management relationship has resulted in successful resolutions to several difficult human resources issues related to the modernization. As Dr. Baker and Doug Hall have discussed, Ron Brown cared about programs. But he also cared about people and the environment within which they worked. He placed the full force of his support behind the Administration’s Partnership initiatives, ensuring that labor/management relations within the Department of Commerce were revolutionized. We at NOAA have been the beneficiaries of this effort to include more fully union representatives in decisions about working conditions. It was through a partnership working group process that we developed NOAA’s implementation of a three-level performance rating system and the structure of an alternative dispute resolution program. Currently we are working with our union partners in developing the parameters for a two- level performance rating program and shortly will begin discussions on a new Through his diversity initiative, Ron Brown was deter- mined that all Department employees should be able to realize their full potential, that they should have equal access to training, promo- tions and awards, and that their ideas would be heard and valued. He requested from employees not only everything the Department had a right to expect but everything they have to offer as well. His leadership had and will continue to have an immediate and direct impact on the deliberations of NOAA’s Diversity Council. Ron’s consistent focus on inclusion of all employees in accomplish- ing the mission of the Department will be the guiding light for the continuing work of our Council. DIANA JOSEPHSON Both of these initiatives are supported strongly at NOAA and will form part of Ron Brown’s lasting legacy.
Democratic National Committee, to brief him about his new department. We spent three or four hours talking about NOAA. He engaged immediately with NOAA’s mission. He was excited to have NOAA’s satellites, weather stations and ships under his jurisdiction. He saw tremendous opportunity to be part of delivering vital services to the public.
That excitement never dimmed—even when facing tough political issues raised by closing fisheries, locating weather facilities, or efforts to dismantle our department and damage NOAA. When all seemed bleak, when hope was ebbing, Ron Brown never failed to demonstrate the resolve, optimism and incredible life force that enabled him to overcome so many obstacles in his life of accomplish- ment and fights for justice and opportu- nity for all Americans.
Just a couple of weeks ago before his death, I talked to Secretary Brown about new regulations for New England fisheries that are provoking sharp political opposition. He didn’t ask how we can change this to make it easier. Instead, he wanted to know who he could call, what he could do, to manage the politics and enable us to do the right thing. While I was in his office, he called a Senator and told him of his commit- ment to protect this resource and the long term economic well-being of New England’s fishermen.
Ron Brown embraced politics and public service as one of life’s most noble callings. He viewed politics not as an end but as a means of changing our Nation to make it a better place.
He was joined in that fight by many dedicated people: the people in NOAA and the employees in the Department of Commerce across the Nation, some who died with him on a mountainside in a faraway land.
I will miss Ron Brown and the other friends and colleagues we lost last month, but I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had to work with and learn from some of the best people I have ever known.