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308.75 – USGS Executive Leadership Team




Issuance Number:     308.75

Subject:                           USGS Executive Leadership Team

Issuance Date:            4/19/2022

Expiration Date:        5/10/2024

Responsible Office:   Office of the Director

Instruction: This revises Survey Manual (SM) chapter 308.75 dated January 4, 2012. Revisions include new decisional topics and materials, including new Appendix A, Background Materials and Briefings for Decisional Topics; Appendix B, Decision Memoranda; and a Decision Memorandum Template.

Approving Official:      /s/ David Applegate

                                        Associate Director for Natural Hazards

                                        Exercising the Delegated Authority of the Director,

                                        U.S. Geological Survey


1.    Charter.  This SM chapter serves as the Charter for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Executive Leadership Team (ELT).

2.    Purpose.  The ELT serves to establish and ensure successful delivery of the USGS mission and vision.  The ELT accomplishes this by corporately focusing on shared interests and needs that span organizational boundaries, setting the bureau’s highest priorities, allocating resources, managing the workforce to meet those priorities, assessing organizational risk and performance, and developing common communication messages.  The ELT is a deliberative body that provides advice and recommendations to the USGS Director on a wide-ranging set of topics that include strategic, scientific, operational, and administrative issues.

3.    Membership.  Members include: the Director, the Deputy Director of Operations, Deputy Director of Administration and Policy, the Chief Scientist, all Associate Directors in science mission areas, all Regional Directors, the Associate Chief Information Officer, the Associate Directors of the Office of Administration, the Office of Budget, Planning, and Integration, the Office of Communications and Publishing, the Director of the Office of International Programs, the Director of the Office of Science Quality and Integrity, the Chief of the Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Department of the Interior (DOI) Science Advisor, and the Director’s Chief of Staff.

4.    Secretariat.  The activities of the ELT are supported and administered by a Secretariat. The Director’s Chief of Staff leads the Secretariat in ensuring the decisions and policies of the ELT are implemented and is supported by the immediate staff of the Director’s Office.

5.    ELT Roles and Responsibilities.

A.  USGS Director.  The Director considers the advice and recommendations of the ELT but has the authority and responsibility for any final decision.  The Director can bring or request topics to the ELT for consideration.  The Director is responsible for ensuring decisions are made and processed in accordance with the ELT governance in section 10 below.

B.  ELT Chair.  Typically, the USGS Director chairs the ELT meetings but may delegate authority for that role.  The chair or their delegate has final approval for all ELT meeting agendas and commissions working groups as needed.

C.  ELT Members.  ELT members recommend topics for ELT meetings and suggest establishing working groups by providing a request to the Secretariat. ELT members deliberate the pros and cons of various alternatives, provide suggestions for clarification or further study, and in the case of decisional topics, ultimately make formal recommendations to the Director for consideration and final decision.  When working groups are approved by the ELT Chair, ELT members identify team members, lead, support, and provide oversight to their activities.

D.  Proxy.  When an ELT member is unable to attend meetings, they will designate an informed and empowered proxy to attend on their behalf who will be prepared to make a recommendation on decisional topics.

E.  ELT Members (or others) providing information to the ELT.  The information provider will ensure that briefings or other materials represent a comprehensive portrayal of the topic at hand to facilitate effective information sharing, deliberations, feedback, and decision-making if formally requested.  For decisional briefings, where the ELT is expected to make one or more recommendations to the Director, it is incumbent on the presenter (or the working group supporting the presenter) to ensure that the topic has been fully vetted and researched and that background, analysis, and relevant options are documented in a read-ahead package.  See section 7 for additional information pertaining to read-ahead packages and briefing content.

F.  ELT Members Receiving Information.  ELT members are expected to come to ELT meetings already familiar with the read-ahead material and prepared to engage in discussion and deliberation with or without a formal presentation of the briefing material.

G.  ELT Secretariat.  The Secretariat is led by the USGS Chief of Staff and supported by the Director’s office. The Secretariat facilitates and coordinates the activities of the ELT and ensures implementation of the resulting decisions and policies.  The ELT Secretariat ensures meetings are scheduled, working groups are established when requested and approved, agendas developed and published, meeting materials are provided in advance and are appropriate for the type of session, and that decision memoranda (decision memos) are prepared.  The Secretariat will also identify and document action items, post action items and decision memos on an established ELT web site, tally and maintain voting records, and track actions between meetings. 

H.  Working Groups.  To operate efficiently, the ELT Chair may stand up ad hoc or standing working groups that are empowered to work through policies and issues in order to bring analysis and decisional recommendations to the full ELT.  See section 8 for more details.

6.    Meetings.  The ELT conducts business primarily through meetings focused on a range of high-level strategic, scientific, operational, and administrative topics.  The ELT holds a weekly staff meeting, monthly general sessions, and quarterly multi-day meetings. Weekly staff meetings are one hour in duration and address current events, so mostly non-decisional.  Monthly general sessions are agenda-driven, often decisional in nature, and are typically one day or less.  Quarterly meetings are multi-day events that are primarily decisional in nature but may also include emergent non-decisional topics.  The duration of quarterly meetings is typically 3 days.  A quarterly schedule is particularly conducive to addressing planning and budget activities that generally follow an annual cycle.

ELT Special Sessions are intended to be infrequent but may be requested by an ELT member thru the Secretariat.  Special sessions are typically of a time-sensitive and emergent nature that cannot wait for a monthly general meeting. These sessions can be decisional or non-decisional depending on the topic.  The Secretariat will schedule the special session considering the urgency of the topic and the overall ELT calendar. 

A.  Attendance.  ELT members are expected to attend the entirety of all ELT meetings.  If unavailable for a meeting (or any portion of the established agenda), members will inform the Secretariat and identify their proxy.  When meetings are planned as in-person, travel must be arranged to ensure attendance for the entirety of the established agenda.  In some cases, meetings may include sensitive or close-hold information and in this case, meeting attendance will be members and secretariat only. 

Note:  Non-ELT members may be asked to participate in ELT meetings, or parts of meetings, as necessary to facilitate presentations and answer questions about the material.  Their attendance will be coordinated with the Secretariat in advance.

B.  Agendas.  To plan and prepare for meetings, the Secretariat publishes and regularly updates a 12-month schedule of ELT meetings that identifies the topics to be covered.  The category (see 6c below) of each topic will be clearly identified on the agenda so that the topic session can be appropriately planned, and members are prepared to make decisions. Many topics recur annually and the timing for their consideration is known well in advance. Other topics will emerge throughout the year. Except in rapidly emerging, critical situations where time is lacking, meeting topics will be finalized four weeks in advance, meeting agendas finalized at least two weeks in advance.

C.  Agenda Topics.  Agenda topics fall within two categories: non-decisional or decisional.  Attributes of the meeting categories are as follows: 

(1)  Non-Decisional: 

(a)  The purpose of these topics is to share information with the members but can also include deliberations and feedback (i.e., guidance for further information/analysis or options to be developed) that will be considered by the presenter.

(b)  If informational only, member attendance may be optional, and members may designate an appropriate subject matter expert.  Read-aheads are typically not required and presentations will be provided one week in advance.

(c)  If deliberations and feedback are necessary, members (or their proxy) will attend.  Science planning sessions typically fall within this category.  Read ahead material and meeting presentations will be provided at least one week in advance.

(2)  Decisional:

(a)  The purpose of these topics is to deliver ELT recommendations to the Director for final decision-making.   

(b)  Members or their designated proxy are required to attend.

(c)  Fully vetted read-ahead package is required two weeks in advance, and presentations one week in advance.

(d)  Decisional topics may require extensive discussion and deliberations prior to bringing the matter to a vote.  Decisional topic sessions may include both an open and closed portion of the meeting.  During the open portion, non-members may attend in order to present recommendations and answer questions.  At an appropriate point, the Chair will designate the meeting as a closed session so that members, or their designated proxy, can deliberate and vote on the recommendation. 

7.    Background materials and Briefings for Decisional Topics.  The interests of the USGS are best served when the ELT is well prepared for effective deliberation and decision-making.  The most effective deliberation and decision-making occurs when the most relevant options are clearly understood.  There is insufficient time in ELT meetings to undertake a discovery process and explore options in a meaningful way.  A decisional topic will typically require background materials and a briefing package.  Refer to Appendix A for a more detailed description of the background material components and briefing packages.

8.    Working Groups.  Efficiency and effectiveness are gained by having a small group thoroughly research a topic, analyze information, and based upon that research and analysis, vet recommendations to the full ELT – saving considerable time in deliberation by the full body.  Working groups will leverage existing relevant bureau teams and committees to perform their research and develop recommendations.  This approach will have the benefit of engaging a broad base of USGS employees in supporting the ELT and will ensure the bureau is effectively utilizing various teams’ and groups’ perspectives in assessing organizational issues and will aid in communicating the issues and the path forward.  In addition, participation in these team efforts may provide staff developmental opportunities.

ELT working groups are commissioned and decommissioned by the ELT Chair. Working groups will be defined as either ad hoc or standing at the time of commissioning.  If ad hoc, a sunset date for the working group must also be defined at commissioning.  The size of working groups may vary according to the complexity of the purpose of the group.  Working groups will be led by at least one ELT member, depending on the group topic and charge.  The composition of ELT members on the working group is determined by the ELT Chair, who has the prerogative to solicit volunteers or recommendations for members, or to appoint membership.  ELT members are expected to provide informed and empowered representatives to these working groups as needed. 

9.    Decision Memorandum.  A decision memo is a document in which recommendations and decisions about a policy or governance matter are formalized.  Decision memos are initiated by the member(s) or working group requesting a recommendation from the ELT and decision by the Director.  Once ELT recommendations are provided and the Director’s decision is made this decision memo will be recorded in DTS and saved to an ELT SharePoint folder.  Refer to Appendix B for a more detailed description of the decision memo components and template.

10.    Governance.  USGS embraces the concept of enabling decision-making at the lowest appropriate level in the organization.  Individual ELT members are responsible for decision-making within their organizational units, as described in the respective USGS Survey Manual chapter.  The ELT, on the other hand, is concerned with high-level, corporate decision-making that spans all, or most, of the USGS organization.  Typically, the ELT does not consider decisional topics that do not meet this criterion.

As described above, meeting agendas and topics are expected to be known in advance and materials provided well ahead of the meeting.  In cases where a decision is requested, ELT members will be prepared to deliberate and decide on recommendations for the 

Director to consider for final decision.  The ELT strives for, but does not require, unanimous consensus in its deliberations.  If the Chair deems that the ELT is not ready to move to a recommendation during a decisional meeting, the Chair has the prerogative to postpone the vote and assign tasks to ELT members to provide additional information.

When the Chair deems that deliberations are sufficiently complete, they may call for a vote among the rest of the ELT, including designated proxies.  The Director does not vote; the remaining ELT members (including the Chair, if delegated) comprise 100% of the vote on the recommendations to put forward to the Director.  In cases where a legal or ethical conflict of interest exists, members must recuse themselves; otherwise adhere to the Code of Conduct.  Voting results are tallied and recorded by the Secretariat.  These results constitute a formal recommendation by the ELT members for the Director to consider.  Voting is “public” among ELT members and will be conducted in the closed session of the meeting.

ELT member(s) can provide a written rationale for their vote if desired.  Members will declare this intent at the time of the vote and provide the rationale within the designated timeframe per Secretariat processes.

The USGS Director has the authority and responsibility for any final decisions.  All decisions must be consistent with applicable statutes, regulations, and DOI/USGS policies including, but not limited to, Fundamental Science Practices and scientific integrity.  When the ELT votes on recommendations to the Director, the Director will set a date for making a final decision.  If a date is not specified, it is assumed to be 10 working days from the date of the recommendation.  If the Director does not formalize a decision by the established date, or subsequently establish a new date, the Secretariat will confirm with the Director that the ELT vote is adopted and becomes the decision.

Within one week of a decision being formalized, the Secretariat will notify the ELT. The Secretariat will ensure the ELT takes the necessary action to implement the decision. Three different situations require different approaches to the decision memo:

  • If the Director’s decision overturns a supermajority of 66% of the ELT members, the Director will annotate in the decision memo their rationale for the dissent from the supermajority.
  • If the Director’s decision concurs with or overturns a simple-majority (51-65%) ELT vote, the decision memo will simply state what decision was made by the Director.
  • If the Director does not decide by the established deadline, then the ELT’s majority vote carries as the de facto decision and the Secretariat will annotate this in the decision memo.  

11.    ELT Core Values As the organization’s senior leaders, the ELT is responsible for delivering the USGS mission.  The USGS is accountable to the American public in how we spend their tax dollars, and consequently it is our duty to ensure the organization runs effectively, efficiently, and ethically.  We are also accountable to the USGS employees for ensuring the organization is a safe, fair, diverse, and enjoyable place to work. 

Accordingly, we will: 

  • Epitomize the USGS Guiding Principles and foster their use throughout the organization.  We commit to reviewing and updating these principles every two years to ensure they align with current thinking and organizational and social values. 
  • Value differences and strive for diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility throughout the organization. 
  • Uphold the highest ethical standards and abide by Fundamental Science Practices and scientific integrity principles.  We recognize that the appearance of ethical breaches or scientific integrity violations are as damaging to the organization as actual violations. 
  • Recognize that the greater good of the USGS is the basis for our decisions and plans.  We will work cooperatively as a team, striving to be proactive and strategic, and embracing change where it improves the organization.  
  • Promote and adhere to a workplace culture that:  
    • strives for the highest quality in the work we do;  
    • recognizes and rewards creative thinking in all employees;  
    • empowers all employees from the bottom up to suggest constructive ways we can do our work better; and 
    • enables employees to report problems affecting the quality of our work without fear of retribution.  
  • Strive to motivate and inspire our employees, guiding them and mentoring them so they may achieve their full potential.  We will value their career goals and work to help them reach them. 

12.    ELT Code of Conduct.  Our ability to lead the organization, provide sound policy recommendations to the Director, and act in the best interests of the public and our employees to whom we are accountable depends on our conduct among and towards each other.

Accordingly, we will: 

  • Choose collaboration over competition.    
  • Be timely in our decision-making and endeavor to meet deadlines we set and those set for us. 
  • Be “present” and engage in discussions and deliberations.
  • Actively support and implement with solidarity decisions that are moral, legal, and ethical, regardless of individual votes or preferences.
  • Operate respectfully and in good faith, ensuring the integrity of our interactions and striving for openness and transparency with each other. 
  • Declare conflicts of interest in our deliberations. 
  • Encourage and respect diverse viewpoints. 
  • Use our colleagues’ gender-preferred pronouns. 
  • Recognize that conflict can be constructive and healthy and choose to resolve rather than avoid conflict.    
  • Allow time for meaningful deliberation in every operational issue/decision.  
  • Hold information in confidence when required. 
  • Challenge each other’s views or behaviors respectfully, professionally, and in the appropriate venue, and strive to identify how our colleagues prefer to receive feedback or constructive criticism. 
  • Hold ourselves accountable to the principles herein. 

13.    Freedom of Information Act.  Written or audio records of deliberations and decisions from ELT activities are potentially subject to public release through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  Written records include, but are not limited to emails, text, chats, notes, briefings, and informational materials.  Public release of information will be determined based on applicable exemptions or exclusions under FOIA.  The definition of a record can be found here: Disposal of Records (44 U.S.C. Chapter 33) | National Archives.

14.    Communication.  ELT meeting agendas and resulting action items will be made available to the ELT.  Other communication methods, such as blogs, podcasts, e-mails, and all-hands meetings, will be used as deemed useful or necessary.



Appendix A – Background Materials and Briefings for Decisional Topics


What is the Purpose of Background Materials and Briefings for Decisional Topics?  

As noted in the ELT Charter, the interests of the USGS are best served when the ELT is well prepared for effective deliberation and decision-making.  The most effective deliberation and decision-making occurs when the most relevant options are clearly understood.  As such, decisional topics require an analysis of the issue, identification of two or more viable options, comparison to the status quo, and a recommendation for the preferred option.  The analysis of the issue, vetted options and recommendation are documented in the background material package described below.  In addition, a briefing package will be prepared that will facilitate the deliberations and decision-making during the scheduled ELT meeting.


Descriptions of the Background Material and Briefings.

1.    Background material will include a comprehensive portrayal of the topic at hand, including a description of the issue; analysis undertaken to develop options; and a minimum of two options and a no-action/status quo alternative that identify the pros and cons of each, the associated risks or risks avoided, initial and reoccurring costs to implement or costs avoided, communication needs, and other relevant factors for each option.  If Fundamental Science Practices, USGS or DOI policy, or ethical or legal considerations have specific relevance to the topic, these must be included in the analysis and described in the material.  The background material should also indicate a preferred option along with its reasoning but recognize that the ELT may choose one of the other options, a hybrid, or some other alternative.  Background material will be provided to the Secretariat at least 2 weeks in advance.  The Secretariat will ensure the material is ready for dissemination and provide ELT members adequate time to review, consider the materials, and prepare for the meeting so that meaningful discussion and deliberations can occur.  Providing such materials less than 2 weeks ahead of time may result in rescheduling the meeting. 

2.    A briefing will be prepared for the scheduled ELT meeting to facilitate discussion during the open portion of the meeting.  The briefing package will include the critical aspects of the issue to be decided, including such items as significant risks or funding requirements, controversial aspects, a summary of the options, etc.  The briefing package will be provided to the Secretariat one week in advance.  The Secretariat will ensure the briefing is ready for dissemination and provide it to ELT members.



Appendix B – Decision Memoranda


What is a Decision Memo?

A decision memo summarizes the range of options considered, declares the option recommended by the ELT, and records the decision of the USGS Director.  It is a tool for providing clarity, expediting decision-making, removing barriers to success, and provides a record of accountability and drives support by decision-makers.  The working group or ELT member requesting a decision, completes Sections 1 thru 4 and 7.  The Secretariat completes section 5 and updates section 7 if necessary.  ELT members may provide dissenting remarks for section 6.  Section 8 is completed by the Director.


What are the Primary Components of a Decision Memo?

Decision memos from the ELT should conform to a standardized template with the following primary sections:

1.    Decision to be Made: This must clearly and succinctly describe the situation requiring a decision.

2.    Current Status: This section must include comprehensive background on the situation requiring a decision, including the history of how the issue arose.  While decision-makers need to understand the background, this requires a careful balance of providing enough history without going into exhaustive and unnecessary detail.  A good litmus test for content to be included here is simply to ask, “Is this information directly relevant to the decision?”  In other words, would knowing the piece of history or current status detail influence the decision-maker one way or another?  If the answer is “yes,” then it is relevant enough to be included.

3.    Options: This section should not list every possible variation anyone could ever dream up.  Instead, it lists viable options that were fully vetted and that decision-makers could consider selecting.  Each option should be explained in detail first; then, in bullet or similar quick-reference fashion, the positives and negatives, benefits, risks, or any other analysis listed to convey the options.  Depending upon the issue, it may also include a section of “excluded options” that briefly list alternatives that were quickly ruled out, with a short statement of explanation.

4.    Recommended Option: This section is for the recommendation of the working group or member(s) submitting the decision memo for consideration.  It should include a reference back to the specific option being recommended (Option #1, 2, or 3…).  In addition, the reasoning for this recommendation must be captured.  For example, it must explain why the recommended option is better than others.  Logic, such as lowest overall risk or cost, are obvious reasons.  Others may include a balance of risk and costs or time sensitivity.

5.    ELT Recommendation to the Director (based on the vote): This section summarizes the vote and documents the ELT recommendations.

6.    Dissenting opinions: As requested by ELT members, dissenting opinions are listed in the decision memo.  The dissenting member(s) submit their dissenting opinion to the Secretariat within one day after the deliberations.

7.    Next Steps: Based on the expected decision, this section outlines what actions must happen next.  This may not be required in all cases, but it is often helpful in ensuring the right actions happen in a timely manner.  In addition, key decisions that require such documentation often stem from a problem and include lessons learned or opportunities to avoid a recurrence.  This section may also be useful for capturing this information.

8.    Director’s Decision and Sign Off: The Director makes their decision and provides their rationale per Section 10 of the ELT Charter, as needed.


Who prepares the Decision Memo?

Decision memos are initiated by the ELT member(s) or working group requesting a recommendation from the ELT and decision by the Director.  The initiator completes sections 1 through 4 and submits it to the Secretariat at least 2 days prior to the meeting at which the issue will be deliberated by the ELT.  Upon conclusion of the deliberations and vote, the Secretariat completes section 5 through 7 of the decision memo and submits the decision memo and other materials to the Director.  


Decision Memorandum Template.docx (