Eclectic career leads Garvey to direct EPA database
- By L. Scott Tillett, L. Scott Tillett
- May 10, 1998
Although Pat Garvey has tried to leave government service for decades, he just cannot seem to stay away.
Luck and his heart have led Garvey to a varied career in government service, from working as a state social worker to a General Accounting Office auditor, from studying for the priesthood to traveling through the nation's parks to being a budget analyst. Garvey's latest position has him back in the public sector, directing a team that oversees an online geographic database for the Environmental Protection Agency.
The site, called the EPA's Envirofacts Warehouse, offers what Garvey describes as a tool the public can use to get involved with local environmental issues. Those who access the World Wide Web site (www.epa.gov/enviro/index_java.html) can view electronic maps that show the potential sources of pollution in neighborhoods, including sites that release airborne chemicals and those that discharge compounds into the water.
"[The public] can start to say, 'What are you doing in my neighborhood?' " Garvey said.
Garvey has spent his working life bouncing in and out of public service jobs. It all started in the 1970s in the Florida Everglades, where, according to Garvey, people still drank from race-designated water fountains, public officials were open members of the Ku Klux Klan, and it was not uncommon for a gun-toting, alligator-hunting father to dangle his child over the side of a boat to lure alligators. But in 1974, he resigned from his Florida post to attend graduate school in public affairs at the University of Texas in Austin. After graduating, Garvey accepted a job as a GAO auditor, a position that, with luck, would give him an entrance to other federal accounting and budgeting jobs. "If you tell another federal person, 'My background is GAO,' they just assume you know budget," he said.
Garvey spent little time working on budget issues. Most of his time was devoted to auditing projects, which included auditing the first space shuttle program and federal prison operations. Garvey said he learned the budgeting process on the fly in subsequent jobs. "I'm a quick learner," he said.
Garvey, a devout Catholic, did not remain with GAO long. In 1977 he left GAO for Louisiana to become a Jesuit priest. On his first day at seminary, a nun put on his pillow a little card bearing a message that Garvey said guides him still today. The card, which Garvey now keeps in a safe-deposit box, reads: "To believe in Him is to know that all things are fair and that there will be wonderful surprises."
One of those surprises hit him in 1980, when he was kicked out of the priesthood primarily because he would not align himself with a pope who he saw as too conservative. He decided to go back to GAO.
He returned to GAO as an auditor that year. But the next year, Garvey's conscience again would push him out of his job. Ronald Reagan had just been elected president, and although Garvey was working for the legislative branch, Reagan's cutbacks in social programs in the executive branch concerned him, and he decided to call it quits.
"I just didn't want to be part of doing audits that kept [showing] how these federal programs were going down the tubes," Garvey said.
In 1981, recently married and with a little early-retirement money, he struck out across the country to explore the nation's parks.
About two years later, Garvey decided it was time to go back to work, and his GAO connections came in handy again. Garvey called on his former boss, Elmer Staats, who held the U.S. Comptroller General position and was then sitting on the board of American University. Staats helped Garvey get a job working on graduate school recruitment projects and alumni-relations programs.
But just as he had done throughout his career, Garvey did not stay long because, as he saw it, luck pushed other opportunities his way. While working at AU, he got a call from a graduate school buddy who knew of a budget analyst job at the EPA. Garvey's GAO experience made him a shoo-in. And the fact that the deputy administrator at the EPA knew Staats helped Garvey move into other positions at the EPA, including those in information resources management.
"My entire life is a streak of luck," Garvey said.
Luck also may help Garvey attain the vision he has for a global data warehouse on environmental information— not just a national database— that would help unravel some of the mysteries of weather and other environmental phenomena. "We know the weather phenomenon is global," he said. "Pollution [has] got to be global too."
Making the vision a reality could be Garvey's future occupation. It would be a long way from the Everglades of the 1970s. But for Garvey, if his luck holds out, it just may be his next dream job.