Robert Burchard (@robertburchard)
Environmental Protection Agency’s SunWise Program
What inspires you to work for government?
As a graduate student in political science, I taught political philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, John Stuart Mill) and studied the formation of public policy. At EPA I practice what I taught and studied – creating public policy in the regulatory arena and for voluntary programs.
Growing up, I spent the summers at the pool, cutting lawns in the neighborhood while shirtless, and riding my bike for hours. I’m paying for it now. I’ve had seven basal cell carcinomas (the least dangerous skin cancer) removed, and I’ll be going to a dermatologist twice a year for the rest of my life. I have been fortunate to work on EPA’s SunWise program, which educates the public about sun safety. As EPA works to heal the ozone layer, which protects us from harmful UV radiation, we want to prevent skin cancer by changing sun protection practices of Americans. A colleague had the great idea to use the UV Index (a numeric indication of the strength of the sun’s rays) as a daily news “hook” on which to hang simple sun safety action steps. With new media, the UV Index has really taken off.
What does your typical day look like?
I spend a good part of my day thinking about and implementing UV Index new media tools that allow the Environmental Protection Agency to put environmental and health information in the hands of Americans so they can make more informed choices. By expanding the ways in which the public can access environmental and health information, we serve broader segments of the public. I am proud that our team developed EPA’s first app (the EPA UV Index); and that the UV Index is the agency’s most accessed source of public information, with over a million accesses a month to EPA data servers.
What advice do you have for senior level executives to help them cultivate the next generation of public servants?
I’d encourage the continued support of innovative new media solutions for sharing EPA’s environmental information, and agency accomplishments with the public. I’d also like to say that U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park is a great advocate for innovative federal government solutions. I hope that he continues to have success.
Do you have any mentors? If so, what role have they played in your career?
I’ve had a number of great mentors during my government career, such as Dr. Craig Benson of the University of Wisconsin, and most recently, Kristinn Vazquez of EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs. But I want to use this opportunity to thank my informal UV Index new media “kitchen cabinet” for their suggestions and encouragement as we took the UV Index app, gadget, widget and website from an idea to a reality. My thank you to Marvin H., Patrick C., Jay C., Julie K, and Adam D.
What’s your favorite DC hangout?
As a family man, I love going to Guapo’s in northwest D.C. where I can see my friends – and the kids can see theirs.
How do you unwind?
Lots of exercise – swimming laps in the summer and bicycling the Capital Crescent Trail and Rock Creek Park the rest of the year. Plus, reading history and politics during the quiet moments at home. And, this summer my wife and I will hike the mountains of northern Utah.
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