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This information is intended to convey the underlying concepts for Reclamation's decision processes. It is not mandatory.
See the Reclamation Manual for official Reclamation-wide requirements.

Reclamation's Decision Process Guide

Complex Situations --

Changing office roles and missions

Developing a strategy or vision takes time and thought. What are your priorities? What will be the best route to take to achieve your goals? You can use the decision process to clarify where you are going--and how you will get there.

These generic notes provide a sample product from an application of the Decision Process Guidebook. In this example, a group of senior level managers met for one day to determine how their office would operate in the future.



Step 1: Needs

Step 2: Goals

Step 3: Resources

Step 4: Options

Step 5: Workable

Step 6: Alternatives

Step 7: Best fit

Step 8: Select

Step 9: Do it

Step 10: Check back

Go On

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navigate in the page--Groundwork

Click on upto top
to get back to the top




This Session

Before the day long meeting, we worked with key people to find out the issues and goals for this session.

This office faces a major change in mission and funding.

Managers wanted to address and develop preliminary answers to:

  • Where does the office want to go?
  • How will we develop a roadmap to get there?

upto topDecisionmakers and Participants:

To determine who would need to be involved, we asked:

  • Who are the decisionmakers?
  • Who will influence the decision? How?

Everybody is a decisionmaker here:

  • Employees will decide whether to support the new direction and will have some input into where this office goes.
  • This management group can propose actions and accomplishments
  • Budget people (at all levels of Reclamation, OPM, and Congress) will determine funding and constraints
  • Congress and the Administration will set overall goals.

navigate in the page--Step 1, Needs

Needs help determine what the program will address-and why the program exists.

Catalogue the various perceptions of needs from various publics.

upto topNeeds and problems

  • Who wants what?
  • What are the needs?

We discussed the history of the office and area, the constituents, and issues in the area. This background gave us a chance to briefly categorize needs for the office and the area.



Our mission is to manage and develop water resources in the West (particularly this area, which comprises three watersheds and a large Federal project that supplies water). Construction is completed so now we need to organize to manage water resources effectively.

upto topRole--What is the role of this office?

  • Develop new programs.
  • Get people involved in identifying problems
  • We need a process for identifying water resource management problems, in conjunction with our partners and clients.

upto topWater management-- how will the basin use Project water?

  • Agricultural ability to afford Project water.
  • More flexibility with water deliveries for agriculture i.e., under 5 acres.
  • Surface and groundwater are limited. How do we help locals make smart management choices?
  • Good baseline data on groundwater and surface water amounts interactions is lacking. How do we obtain the data we need for programs such as groundwater recharge, state water bank.?
  • Drought management is an important issue in this area. How can we work with other entities to address it? (i.e., local/state/federal cooperation and integration of systems and decision authority)
  • Waste water infrastructure
  • Water quality concerns.
  • Rural community growth affecting perennial
  • rivers base flow.
  • Water conservation and drought relief issues.

upto topEmployees--how do we *downsize* and keep the expertise we need?

  • We'll have more work than people or money
  • How do we decide who to tell no to?
  • We can't lose all the designers.
  • How do we deal with morale? Employees left feel abandoned
  • Less money for everyone, (local, state and federal)
  • How do we combine efforts to get the best bang for the buck.?

navigate in the page--Step 2, Objective

Develop objectives to focus the program. Determine the objectives (those needs that your process may help to meet). You may need to spend some time separating out underlying real needs from positions. The rest of the decision process will focus on meeting these objectives.

TIP: Use ranking exercises to prioritize objectives.

upto topGoals, Objectives

  • What do we want the solution accomplish?
  • What will this solution do in 5 years? in ten? in fifty? in a century?


Objectives will neeed to be fleshed out to be compatible with Congress' and the Administration's priorities. The main goal is to develop a roadmap for our office to share with personnel, agency. Places on this roadmap will include:

upto topWater availability and management:

  • Identify options - implement solutions
  • Identify issues - become sensitive

upto topRole

  • Transition from project to service - define relationships, clarify role.
  • Educate others about process.

upto topCustomers

  • Find ways to coordinate $
  • Develop support
  • Respond to customer needs
  • Reduce overhead

upto topProgram Development

  • Develop vision future program
  • What kind of work

upto topBudget

  • Develop long range planning
  • Develop realistic budgets
  • Respond to cost needs (time)

upto topStaff

  • Educate staff about programs.
  • Develop staff expertise - change in job -
  • evaluate who can do job.

navigate in the page--Step 3, Resources

Resources and constraints let you figure out what you have to work with and what the boundaries of the study are.

Determine the relationships and influences between available resources (physical, social, and political). These resources provide a reality check--- they determine how you will be able to meet the objectives.

Many resources also carry constraints with them. For example, authorizing legislation provides the authority to conduct the program as well as sideboards for scope, time, etc.

upto topWhat you have to work with

  • What resources do we have to solve the problem?
  • What don't we have?
  • What are the limits?

We brainstormed resources and catalogued this list after the meeting to have something to build on.


  • Formal and informal agreement -
  • relationships
  • Organizational flexibility
  • Set up group to work on rural
  • Opportunity to change role
  • Non-traditional constituencies - lobby
  • Politics
  • Local
  • Federal
  • Input to budget process
  • Guidebook
  • Reclamation Manual
  • Ability to set priorities
  • Time
  • Funding source
  • Other Agencies - like minded needs

upto topConstraints

  • Unclear priorities
  • Time Constraint
  • Staffing - New People - no guarantee of skill level
  • Lack of understanding among people on budget
  • Lack of basic understanding of technical principles
  • Need to develop information on basicprinciples
  • Different needs, cultures, levels ofunderstanding
  • Politics
  • Local
  • Administration (Fed)
  • Budget:
  • Staff
  • Credibility
  • Authority
  • NEPA - Federal regulations
  • Compliance requirements, $ regulations, procurement

navigate in the page--Step 4, Options

Options or components of solutions provide multiple ways to address each objective.

Consider all options presented at this point--they'll winnowed down later.

TIP: Go WILD! Have some fun.

What are your options?

  • What can participants do?
  • What can your team do?

We reviewed the background material before the meeting to list options already discovered. In the meeting, we brainstormed and invited participants to write their options on a flipchart.


  • Specific options for this area were discussed, along with some generic proposals:

upto topNo Action

Always throw in the no action option (retire, quit, refuse to get involved at a Federal level) so that you can measure how much you truly need to act.

  • Quit
  • Retire
  • Keep on going in the same manner

upto topPrograms and Mission


  • Develop overall programs and priorities
  • Partnership & Coordination - Slowly expand
  • Assist state agencies in their mission
  • Look at justification
  • Develop criteria
  • Shotgun approach
  • Continue to be reactive
  • Continue to have feelers
  • Build in checks - 5 years from now
  • Continue new exploration

upto topFunding

  • Find ways to request $
  • Request $ for rural projects
  • Educate people - lobby for $
  • Change way we budget
  • Get solicitors, others to share funding
  • Cost share with state, agencies - help figure
  • out problems, develop priorities, expertise
  • Use our $ as a catalyst, seed
  • Use authority - non traditional

upto topBudget

  • Zero-based budgeting - Administer program by building from bottom
  • New budget formulation
  • Expand corporate budgeting to whole office

upto topPriorities

  • Develop means to prioritize and choose our role
  • Decide priorities - How to narrow
  • Attack worst problem first
  • Look at commissioner's goals
  • Talk to areas, regions with successful projects
  • Get the camel's nose under the tent

navigate in the page--Step 5, Screening Criteria

Determine standards that each option must meet in order to work and weed fatal flaws.

Apply the criteria to each option consistently to develop a set of viable options.

upto topTrain wrecks, fatal flaws, things that blow up

  • What won't work? Why?
  • At what point won't it work?

These items are your screening criteria.

At this point, the group screened specific options, developed various alternatives (5 year visions for the office), and discussed possible evaluation criteria. The facilitators provided extensive notes, which the group has used as a basis for developing strategies and priorities for the office.


  • Be implementable by next FY
  • Meet overall Reclamation, administration goals
  • Match Federal Objectives
  • Be doable with current staff levels
  • Be compatible with and work with other Federal, state, tribal, private entities
  • Meet all existing responsibilities

navigate in the page--Step 6, Alternatives

Combine options to form alternatives. Develop a wide range of alternatives including no action. Check each alternative to ensure that it meets the objectives.

upto topGet a wide range of alternatives. After developing each alternative, ask:

  • Will it fulfill the objectives?
  • Will it work?
  • Can it be supported?
  • Can it be improved and refined?

When you refine alternatives, run them through the screening criteria to make sure you don't include fatal flaws.


To develop alternatives, the team needed to do some research:

  • What specific opportunities exist in the area for Reclamation involvement?
  • Where can Reclamation make a difference?
  • How can we work with other Reclamation offices?
  • What are the priorities of the Administration and Congress?

navigate in the page--Step 7, Evaluation

Determine priorities: What do you need to consider so that an alternative best fits your situation? What will drive the decision? What is important to you?

upto topDevelop evaluation criteria to rank the alternatives. Perform analyses and weigh tradeoffs to compare alternatives.

The team met again to discuss alternatives. Priorities were developed to judge alternatives.


  • Have partnership and support from the communities
  • Work to promote efficient water development in the area and the West
  • Ensure water supplies for the long term
  • Meet administrative, congressional priorities

navigate in the page--Step 8, Selection


Think about how the selection process will work throughout the action to avoid possible delays and surprises.

upto topDecision

The people identified in Groundwork (above) look at all the tradeoffs and select what best meets the needs and objectives at the moment.

Then they set up a plan to ensure this works--and to revisit it later.


A plan wll be presented through the Budget Review Committee and other venues.

navigate in the page--Step 9, Implement

TIP: Keep this step in the forefront at all times.

upto topIdentify and fund responsible implementors to carry out the decision. Find and communicate with newly affected and interested publics.


Implementation will be through every action in the office. We will need good communication between all groups and employees to ensure we focus on our priorities and vision.

navigate in the page--Step 10, Monitor and Follow up

TIP: Set aside regular times to check back.

upto topMake sure the solution continues to work by providing for maintenance and operation of physical structures and administration of institutional solutions. Examine the situation and modify the solution when necessary. Afterwards, discuss the decision process and let others know what worked and what didn't. Carry these lessons over into future problem-solving efforts.


The team will meet every year to ensure that actions and programs fit within the overall vision.

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navigate in the page--Go On

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Please contact Deena Larsen 303-445-2584 with questions or comments on this material.