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Power's New Form
Jessie Roberson, Manager, Department of Energy, Ro

As a young girl growing up in Evergreen, Alabama, I had never heard of the Rocky Flats site in Colorado. Nor did I try to establish a career path as a young woman that would put me at the helm of cleaning up one of the most controversial nuclear facilities in the nation.

While I didn###t have dreams of managing the cleanup of a defunct nuclear weapons plant, my life experiences and the knowledge I gained from those experiences helped me prepare for the decisions I###m now required to make on a daily basis. These experiences helped me grow personally and professionally, helped me refine the true meaning of power, and helped me recognize the special talents and unique qualities present in everyone I meet.

My story, like many of yours, is a story about evolution, growth and change. These are essential ingredients for women to be successful at whatever they do in today###s environment.

I would like to say I controlled my destiny always, but that is not the case. My life has evolved through a series of events and experiences that shaped who I am and helped me clearly understand what I believe. I learned to align my behavior and values to make confident decisions that reinforce the beliefs, values and core elements of who I am today. I now know that to be genuinely successful, I must know who I am, what I want, and what I value. Without that knowledge, I would constantly be focusing on elements outside of myself and beyond my control, for approval and validation.

The experiences that helped me evolve are similar to those most women experience today. I had college professors who didn###t believe nuclear engineering was an appropriate field for women...and told me so. I###ve had co-workers and bosses who were skeptical of my abilities, and who resisted giving me the opportunity to prove myself. And I###ve faced difficult decisions on how best to raise my daughter as a single parent. I###ve also met and been influenced by those were willing to give me a fair chance.

I value all of my life###s experiences because they helped me develop a formula for decision-making that promotes balance and provides an individual perception about power that reinforces my core beliefs.

Many people think that as the Department of Energy (DOE) Manager at Rocky Flats, I wield a substantial amount of power just by virtue of my position. Real power, however, comes from within. In my life, the formula to make and execute decisions (both personal and professional) is generally bounded by two power principles which I refer to as Risk/Consequence and Value-Added.

There are those who define power as control, but that definition does not work for me. You cannot view power as control, because you often don###t have any control over the people who are actually doing the work. In fact, the higher in position a person goes, the further away they become from the day-to-day operations that determine their success. As Manager of the DOE###s Rocky Flats Field Office, I have all the accountability for what occurs at Rocky Flats, and yet none of the control. So the question I have to ask myself is how much personal risk am I willing to invest for the accomplishment of my goal. When I consider a decision, however, I also examine the "value-added" principle. When I speak of "value-added," I###m really asking if my involvement in a particular situation can improve the situation. Whether my involvement improves a situation is a key objective of any decision I make.

Once I determine my decision based on these principles, I am able to respond to any situation that may surface while attempting to accomplish my goal. I find this formula is effective in my professional life at Rocky Flats as well as in my personal life and raising my eight-year-old daughter, Jessica.

With all the responsibilities of my current position, it would be easy to neglect my personal life. Because of the formula I use, I###ve chosen to instill discipline in my life to create balance and to establish routines with my daughter.

Every morning, we eat breakfast together. Every week, we set aside a movie night, and at least once a week we go out to dinner. We spend time outdoors, we do aerobics, and take brisk walks in malls. These routines help me maintain balance in my life, and reinforce a basic core value I have that I will be the primary influence on my daughter###s life.

In life, it is important to recognize that you can only control your own actions and responses to situations. You cannot control the actions of others, but you can influence and lead. This realization has helped me manage my responsibilities at Rocky Flats, and helped me balance the competing interests and changing missions that have so greatly affected cleanup.

When I first came to Rocky Flats in 1984 as an assistant manager in charge of environmental cleanup, I found initial cleanup efforts hampered by the lack of a clear vision, conflicting regulatory requirements, and a public mistrust fueled by years of secret operations. The site###s budget was well in excess of $700 million annually and little was being done except maintaining the status quo and trying the keep the facilities and materials safe.

My predecessor at Rocky Flats, as well as regulatory agencies and the State of Colorado, recognized that dramatic change was essential if Rocky Flats was ever to be cleaned and closed in our lifetime. Congress was not likely to keep funds flowing to Rocky Flats indefinitely, particularly if real progress was not forthcoming. The result was a new Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement and "Vision" statement signed in 1995 that streamlined the regulatory process and established the path for an accelerated cleanup and closure of Rocky Flats.

The Department of Energy also had to change the way it did business, moving to a performance-based contract where contractors are paid for accomplishing specific goals, and acting more like a private business instead of a government agency. We also committed to more effective public involvement in the decision-making process.

These changes have helped get more real work done than at any time during this decade. Today, waste materials are being shipped offsite, radioactive materials are being stabilized and prepared for shipment, environmental contamination sites are being cleaned, and buildings are being prepared for dismantlement. While much has been accomplished in recent years, much more remains to be done in the future to ensure a safe cleanup of the site. Many difficult decisions will have to be made, and public input will remain crucial to resolve the many complex issues.

As with the individual, the community is most powerful when it makes decisions based on its core values and beliefs. There are many different sets of core values and beliefs surrounding the Rocky Flats question, and these will have to be resolved for the cleanup and closure to be successful. Our ability to bound our decisions and reach consensus on a proper path forward are the keys to our mutual success. This can be done, and we as a community will be successful if our decisions reflect our common values.

Jessie Roberson was named Manager of the Department of Energy###s Rocky Flats Field Office at the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site on May 9, 1996. In the two years preceding her promotion, Ms. Roberson served as the Assistant Manager for Environment, Safety & Health and Program Assessment, and as the Assistant Manager for Environmental Programs at Rocky Flats. Prior to her Rocky Flats assignment, she was the Deputy Assistant Manager for Environmental Restoration and Solid Waste Management in Savannah River, South Carolina. Ms. Roberson has more than 16 years of experience in the nuclear field, with an emphasis in environmental restoration, low level waste management and project management.

Ms. Roberson came to the Department of Energy in 1989 from Georgia Power, where she worked at the Hatch and Vogtle nuclear plants. Before working at Georgia Power, Roberson worked for Dupont as a reactor area supervisor responsible for managing reactor operations. She has worked at three federally owned reactors and two commercial reactors.