Harriet Tregoning, 55
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
How did you get here?
I began my career in the Federal government working for EPA right out of college. I aspired to a career in public service and have been fortunate to enjoy exactly that for 30 years and counting. In addition to the Federal government, I got a chance to work at the state level (Secretary of Planning in Maryland) and at the local level (Planning Director in the District of Columbia). That state and local experience has been extremely helpful as I find myself back in the Federal government here at HUD.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
Back in the Clinton Administration when I was still at EPA, I had a chance to work on the inter-agency multi-sector effort called the President’s Council on Sustainable Development. I had previously been focused at EPA entirely on regulatory compliance and enforcement. As part of the President’s Council, I got a chance to work across the table with local and state government, the private sector, nonprofits, and academics on how to make communities more successful in terms of economic, environmental and social outcomes. During our work together, I found that while we all had different interests, it was very powerful when we could come to an agreement around issues large and small. In fact the Presidents Council developed a broad consensus on many significant issues. For me, the process was a revelation as was the realization that we had agreement right off the bat on 80% of the issues and spent the rest of our time focused on the 20% where we had initial disagreement.
That experience changed everything for me including the focus of my future work. We recognized in the President’s Council that land use changes across the country were having enormous impacts on the environmental, physical and fiscal health of communities and it really wasn't anyone's job to do anything about it. So I decided I would try to make it my job. EPA was incredibly supportive in letting me create an organizational unit within EPA to do so. 20 years later that organization still exists as the Office of Sustainable Communities. And making communities more successful economically, socially and environmentally, has been my focus ever since.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration?
I have been really thrilled to play a contributing role in two critical efforts while in the Obama Administration: (1) income inequality and economic mobility; and (2) addressing climate change. We are working with communities and regions all across the country that are addressing long standing inequalities and patterns of racially concentrated poverty by improving transit access, allowing more multi-family housing in neighborhoods with good schools, and aligning jobs, housing location and transit investment. In my shop at HUD, we also focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy in housing and we also focus on disaster recovery. One of the really innovative things I've gotten a chance to work on is the National Disaster Resilience Competition, open to 48 states and more than a dozen local governments. Applicants addressed recovery from their past disasters, but also addressed increasing their resilience to future shocks and stresses, such as sea level rise and increased frequency and severity of extreme weather. We partnered with philanthropy (the Rockefeller Foundation) and ran the $1 billion competition in two phases to give applicants the chance to think very differently about their approaches to resilience, design infrastructure investments to deliver multiple community benefits, form a dense network of partnerships, and make long term commitments to their future resilience.
Can you describe your time working for the Obama administration in 10 words?
Amazing experience working on the most critical issues of today.
Complete the sentence: "When I am not working, I…"
…am reading, playing tennis, biking around the city, and enjoying how beautiful and different Washington is, in every season.