March 2, 2018

David Kling (MPA ’78)

Associate Administrator for Homeland Security at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (Retired)

Dave Kling (MPA ’78) had every intention of returning to his job in journalism after attending the University of Washington’s Graduate School of Public Affairs (now Evans School) in 1976. He just wanted to gain a deeper understanding of the public policies that he found himself writing newspaper articles about all the time. Then as a student writing the School’s first alumni publication, Dave had the opportunity to conduct a transformational interview with William D. Ruckelshaus, 1st and 5th Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

As Dave described it, “Bill was a senior Weyerhauser executive at the time of our interview, but he kept steering the conversation towards his public service rather than his successful private sector career. He repeatedly said, ‘public service is infectious,’ and he was quick to return to the EPA later when given the opportunity by President Reagan. I started to feel the same way – public service can address impactful, pressing issues and improve people’s lives – and that was infectious and exciting. I decided to begin a public service career, and the rigorous coursework at GSPA helped me succeed.”

Upon graduating, Dave was selected for the first Presidential Management Intern program in 1978 (now Presidential Management Fellows, PMF), and he went to work for Headquarters Pacific Air Forces in Honolulu.   

He joined the EPA in Washington, D.C. in 1985, completed his Ph.D. in political science at Johns Hopkins, and dedicated the rest of his career to this agency. He advanced into roles in the asbestos program, as director of the pioneering Pollution Prevention Division, and as head of the EPA’s Federal Facilities Enforcement Office. Ultimately, Dave was chosen as the EPA’s Associate Administrator for Homeland Security, where he coordinated the Agency’s $90+ million program and represented EPA at the National Security Council. EPA plays a critical role in protecting the US’s water supply, preparing for chemical and biological attacks, as well as response, decontamination, and cleanup during national emergencies and natural disasters.

 “My management degree was imperative for effective public service leadership at the EPA,” Dave reflected. “I was well prepared by the Evans School to lead in government – to learn and manage federal programs, to help guide technical experts and scientists, and to facilitate functions across teams so our Agency could find fresh ideas that addressed complex public problems and policy challenges in real time.”

After nearly 40 years in the federal government and 24 in the Senior Executive Service, Dave decided to retire last fall. When asked about his most rewarding professional moment, Dave had many, but noted that he loved directing the EPA’s fledgling Pollution Prevention Division in the 1990s.

“I got to be on the ground floor of a simple new paradigm in environmental policy, the concept that if you eliminate pollution at the source, you don’t face the burden or expense to control, regulate or clean it up later. It was the precursor to the sustainability and ‘green products’ movement, which has really evolved today.”  It was central to the EPA’s mission to protect human health and the environment, and that’s what kept him at the Agency for the balance of his career.

Dave’s advice to current Evans School students and aspiring public leaders: “Put full effort into your graduate studies. Get your leadership training – in substantive policy areas, the bureaucratic arts of budgeting, personnel management, and so on.  That education will serve you your entire career. Take advantage of all that the Evans School and the University of Washington have to offer while you have the chance.” Congratulations, Dave, on your well-deserved retirement, and a long career of public service leadership!