Hispanic Employee: Rafael DeLeon

Hispanic Heritage Month - Hispanic employees at EPA


Rafael Deleon

Rafael DeLeon, Esq., Acting Director
Office of Site Remediation Enforcement
Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
Washington, DC

en español

Question: Where were you born?

Rafael DeLeon: East Harlem, New York, affectionately known as “Spanish Harlem” or “El Barrio.” 

Question: Where did you go to college? What was your major?

Rafael DeLeon: I went to Brandeis University for undergraduate work.  I majored in political science with a concentration in African and Afro-American studies and Latin American studies.  After college, I went to law school at the Georgetown University Law Center. I passed the bar exam and was a lawyer at age 25.

Question: What brought you to EPA?

Rafael DeLeon: In 1987, I was selected as EPA’s National Hispanic Employment Program Manager in the Office of Civil Rights (OCR).  Now I have been with EPA 26 years.

Question: What kind of work do you do at EPA?

Rafael DeLeon: I am currently the Acting Director of the Office of Site Remediation Enforcement (OSRE) in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA).  Immediately prior to this current job, I served as the Deputy Director for OSRE.  I also serve as the principal advisor to the Assistant Administrator on all matters relating to civil and administrative enforcement activities in the remediation/cleanup enforcement program.

I have held numerous leadership positions at EPA, some using my law degree and some not. I started as a staff attorney and moved up the ladder.  I served as Associate General Counsel for Civil Rights Law, my first position in the Senior Executive Service (SES).  As a non-lawyer, I have been the Director of the Office of Cooperative Environmental Management, responsible for federal advisory committees, the Director of Human Resources, and the Director of the Office of Civil Rights, also all SES positions.

Question: What message would you like to send young Latinos who are considering going to college?

Rafael DeLeon: All young Latinos should go to college and graduate school. Education is one of the most important ways to be successful. Although it is not the only way, without a higher education, career opportunities will almost assuredly be restricted and confined to lower paying jobs. The professional job markets of today almost universally require an undergraduate and advanced degree.  A high school diploma, while admirable, is not enough to be competitive in today's or tomorrow’s job market.

Recently, much has been said of the cost of a college education. Young Latinos whose parents cannot afford the cost of a 4-year private college should explore other options: state colleges and universities, community colleges, or free tuition programs offered to lower- and middle-income families by some prestigious universities and colleges.

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