In his 2018 book, “The Fifth Risk,” Michael Lewis discusses urgent threats to American life. Four of these risks are obvious: nuclear attacks, cyber warfare, hurricanes, and attacks on the electrical grid. These are the risks we can identify and at least try to prepare for and/or hopefully prevent. Lewis notes there is a fifth risk that we should also fear. It is the least detectable and the least imagined. He uses the term “program management” to describe this threat.
According to Lewis, program management is the program administration of critical government agencies. That sounds quite boring and harmless — at least when compared to the other risks he describes. Yet it can be just as lethal. It is the innovation that never occurs; it is the knowledge that is never created. It is the use of short term strategies without regard to long term costs. Worst of all, it is the desire not to know and to deny science. While Lewis concentrates his attention on external threats, his book could be applied internally specifically to the program management of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and how that management poses a clear and present threat.