Saturday, September 18, 2010

Former Assistant Secretaries of the Interior John A. Carver and Rebecca C. Watson Speak at Sturm College of Law; Key Issues and Challenges Explained

Two former Assistant Secretaries of the U.S. Department of the Interior, John A. Carver Jr. and Rebecca C. Watson, recently discussed their tenures at the Department of Interior in a wide-ranging presentation at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

Mr. Carver served as an Assistant Secretary during the administrations of President John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson while Ms. Watson served in the administration of President George W. Bush.

Former Secretary Carver, who also was a professor at the college of law from 1972 through the mid-2000s, began by describing the relationship between the nation's public lands and the history and development of the United States. He noted that during much of the country's history the matter of "what should be the ultimate disposition of these public lands" has been debated and pondered.

Among the key issues during his tenure, from 1961-1966, were the role of public lands in the provision of forage for cattle and the resulting grazing fees as well as undertaking a major land survey of Alaska, which at that time had only recently been admitted to the U.S. He also noted with some humor the challenges he faced between the policy officers in the department and the solicitor's office.

Former Secretary Watson, a Sturm College of Law 1978 JD graduate and currently a partner at the Denver-based firm of Welborn Sullivan Meck & Tooley PC, mentioned the major event -- the 9/11 terrorist attack -- that took place just before she assumed her role. That event played a large role in the projects she ultimately was involved in including how to protect critical energy infrastructure and the role of energy more generally as a national security issue. A second key focus was the matter of catastrophic wild fires and what could be done to reduce the risk of such catastrophies. Finally she described the concept of "cooperative conservation," which was emphasized by her boss, former Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton (also a DU JD graduate), and her ultimate boss President Bush.

Secretary Watson also told the students about the three guiding principals that she employed at the Department of the Interior including: (1) creating a team; (2) providing the team leadership in the form of defining where the team was headed and making decisions; and (3) the need to always be aware, from an ethical standpoint, of the high standards that one should uphold while in public office.

Despite the 40 years that separated Secretaries Carver and Watson, several observations are crystal clear. First, they both loved their time at the Department of the Interior. Secretary Carver said his time there represented "the best job I ever had." Second, the desire to serve the public was considered a high honor as well as an important responsibility to both secretaries. Third, because of their close associations with the College of Law there was much for all of us to learn about their pride and loyalty to an institution that has been and continues to be an important part of their lives.

And finally, it was simply impossible for those of us in the audience not to benefit from the professionalism these two leaders displayed in their respect for their roles as public servants. This is no small lesson to be considered in contemporary times that are often colored by disagreements and heated disputes. When we watch individuals from different times, different generations, and different political backgrounds provide thoughtful and respectful commentary about their careers and the challenges they faced we are reminded of the powerful positive examples that can be reflected in how one conducts his or her career.

John A. Carver Jr. and Rebecca C. Watson -- two esteemed members of the Sturm College of Law community, who taught all of us more about life and success in an hour than we often learn in months and even years.

--Don C. Smith
(Editor's note: John A. Carver Jr. is in the top photo; in the middle photo from left Rebecca Watson, John A. Carver Jr, Don C. Smith, Director of the Environmental and Natural Resource Law program, and Professor of Law K.K. DuVivier; bottom photo is of Rebecca Watson.)

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