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Environmental Factor

March 2011

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Woychik talks about NIEHS and the 2012-2016 Strategic Plan

By Ernie Hood
March 2011

NIEHS Deputy Director Richard Woychik, Ph.D.

During his first days on the job, Woychik made it clear to all that he plans to be a deputy director who is accessible to employees and stakeholders and involved in all aspects of the Institute's operations. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS Deputy Director Richard Woychik, Ph.D. responded to questions from the Environmental Factor about his presentation Feb. 16 on the NIEHS 2012-2016 Strategic Plan( and his first two weeks at the Institute working closely with NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D.

FACTOR: Why is it so important for the Institute to formulate a new strategic plan?

WOYCHIK: A strategic plan gives everyone associated with the Institute - internal, external, the environmental health sciences community - a sense of where we are going. As part of the process, you do an evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses. What are the real opportunities and the threats that are out there in the biomedical environment? So, it gives you a chance every five years to really look at how the world community has changed, and then to evaluate what we have done, at what parts of the previous strategic plan are still applicable or unfinished business and are important to help guide the future directions of the Institute - and the new opportunities and new areas we want to be moving in over the course of the next five years.

First impressions

FACTOR: You've only been here at NIEHS a couple of weeks now, but you certainly seem to have hit the ground running. What are your first impressions?

WOYCHIK: My first impressions are very positive. First of all, starting with an institute that has a focus that is so much in alignment with my own personal passions is something I am very excited about, and the first two weeks on the job confirm that all of my due diligence about the interests of the Institute was in fact spot on. So it's great to be amongst groups of people [like this], certainly Linda, with her passions and interests; I'm clearly in the right place relative to scientific focus.

The other thing I've been struck by is the quality of the people here. It's a place where I'm amazed at how much you can get done in a relatively short period of time. Plus, as I've been getting to know people throughout the organization, I've been exceedingly impressed with the quality of the work that we've done, and I'm very encouraged by the quality of the work and the impact that we can have over the next five to ten years.

Positive responses from Council

FACTOR: Following your briefing to Council (see related story( about the process and timelines for the Strategic Plan, you seemed very pleased with the members' comments.

WOYCHIK: First of all, I'm encouraged that they were so supportive of the process, and supportive of us doing this now. There really weren't any negatives about what we're proposing to do and the timeframe in which we're doing it. What didn't get captured in the public discussion were the many very positive statements that many Council members made to me personally at the coffee break.

So I think there's a real sense of interest, that the timing is right to take a look at mission and vision, and to develop the strategic goals for the next five years. I was also very encouraged just by the engagement. It's clear that there's a lot of passion out there around issues in environmental health science.

FACTOR: Another large theme that emerged in the Council meeting was the current budget atmosphere, and the uncertainties that are being faced over the near term. Will that have any effect on the strategic planning process?

WOYCHIK: I think that when you have budgetary challenges, it's all the more reason to be doing a strategic plan, because the plan will also lay out your priorities as you move forward. So, if there are budgetary shortfalls, then one knows exactly, based on the grassroots input, where the interests are, and where the funds should be placed, as the highest priorities, and the second-highest priorities. Another thing that I was very encouraged with was the idea several members articulated of making sure that NIEHS is partnering and collaborating with other institutes and other agencies.

(Ernie Hood is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)

Strategic planning process emphasizes transparency and inclusion

Asked about the Strategic Planning process, Woychik pointed to the combination of Web-based tools and stakeholder meetings designed to promote participation in the development of the final product.

Linda and I feel very strongly that we want to structure the process in such a way that all stakeholders understand - we want to hear from you. So we've developed both a Web-based system and an in-person, large group meeting that is scheduled far enough in advance so that anyone and everyone who is interested in having input into this process will have an opportunity to contribute. We're going to be publishing the process, when the time periods are when you'll have a chance to give us input, and in what format the input will be provided. So pay attention to those things, and then follow the progress, and anyone in the community will have a chance to comment on the progress that we make. I hope that at the end of this process, fifteen months later, the entire environmental health sciences community will feel that we have a plan that really provides a roadmap and guidance on what we can be doing to impact the quality of human health and human suffering.

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