More than 40 years ago, Robert Pace was a graduate student doing fieldwork in the waterways near State University of New York -- Binghamton.
Now four decades later, he reflects on a career rooted in the streams and waterways that inspired his passion that still burns today.
Pace became interested in environmental issues during graduate school when he studied geology and geography. Soon after, he began his career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters in the Flood Plain Management Services Branch for a year and then joined the Baltimore District’s Planning Division in 1978.
Pace’s first project involved working on the Washington D.C. Water Supply Study that focused on the water supply needs of the nation’s Capitol area from 1980-2030. He also worked extensively on studies related to the Potomac River basin. While the study represented an important initial step with the Corps, it also served as a learning environment to interact with people who would help guide and direct his career.
“Several people mentored and supported me. They took an interest in me and my growth and I’m tremendously indebted to many who brought me along early in my career.”
Bill Haines, Engineering Division, is someone Pace credits as a mentor during those years.
“It was an honor and privilege to work with Robert on the Washington D.C. water supply study. He was an invaluable asset, and I don’t know what I would have done without him,” said Haines.
“We had a lot of tight deadlines and he was instrumental in helping us meet them. He was always hard working and had a way with people.
While technical proficiency certainly allowed Pace to excel in his career, he regards interpersonal relationship as one of the most valuable lessons he’s learned.
“You have to have a will to make it work, and you have to find a way to work with and relate to a diverse team in order to get the results you want,” said Pace. “It’s not just a job. Working for the Federal government on public works projects is a responsibility that we must take very seriously on behalf of the taxpayers. I’ve tried to instill this ethic in those that I’ve worked with.”
Pace worked in Planning Division until the mid 1980’s and even worked at headquarters for a little more than a year as a planner.
He joined EA Engineering for 10 years as a consultant and had the opportunity to work on projects for the Air Force and other clients around the world.
“Working for the private sector gave me a valuable experience to work with a smart, strong team, but I felt like I was moving away from water resources and what I really was interested in. I felt a strong need to get back to my roots,” he said.
Pace maintained contact with fellow Baltimore District colleagues and returned to Planning Division in 2000. Soon thereafter, he applied for the Chief of Planning position.
“It wasn’t on my radar until others suggested that I apply, but it turned out to be a circumstance where I was at the right place at the right time,” he said.
“He really became a backbone for Planning Division in the Baltimore District,” said Amy Guise, current Chief of Planning.
While serving as Chief of Planning, he also completed a one year detail on behalf of the North Atlantic Division, working in Germany for AFRICOM. There he worked on water projects for Africa and spent some time in Tanzania.
“It was a rewarding opportunity to work on policy to support water security in Africa while also having the opportunity to travel around Europe with my wife in our free time,” said Pace.
Pace served as Chief of Planning for eight years until switching gears to become the Chief of Operations in 2012.
“Operations was a natural fit for me because while I was in Planning I worked on several of those [flood damage reduction and navigation] projects, including Jennings Randolph Lake and Poplar Island” said Pace. “A lot of my graduate school education also surrounded issues related to flooding and levees and flood protection.” He also had a deep and growing interest in Ports and navigation.
Pace said regulatory was the wild card in Operations for him since he had little exposure to the processes, but he credits the staff for helping in the learning process.
“I’m proud to be a part of the USACE team. We do so many great things for the public— whether it’s cleaning up sites, dredging waterways or building overseas. I’m proud to have been part of this organization,” said Pace.
Pace plans to move to Philadelphia with his wife to be closer to family. During retirement, he plans to continue sharpening his writing skills, improve on his Spanish, and travel the world
At some point, Pace plans to return to working on issues related to water resources management.
“I really enjoy the engagement and interfacing with people, and I think I will want that back again because it’s so rewarding and enjoyable for me,” said Pace. “Those doors will open when I’m ready, and hopefully I’ll have some opportunities to continue to serve the public and address water issues…because being a part of that is incredibly important.”