Originally Broadcast May 3, 2008
Announcer: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The Business of Government Hour is produced by The IBM Center for The Business of Government, which was created in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. You can find out more about The Center by visiting us on the web at businessofgovernment.org.
And now, The Business of Government Hour.
Mr. Morales: Good morning. I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government.
The constant and efficient movement of people and goods across the U.S. and around the globe is critical to the economy and our lives. Today, our vital transportation infrastructure is showing signs of aging, and we are experiencing unprecedented congestion in our nation's highways and railways, at our airports and at our seaports. Overcoming these challenges will increasingly rest on the development and the deployment of new technologies and cutting-edge solutions.
With us this morning to discuss his department's efforts in foraging a transportation system for the 21st century is Paul Brubaker, administrator at the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, or RITA, within the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Good morning, Paul.
Mr. Brubaker: Good morning, Albert.
Mr. Morales: And joining us in our conversation is John Nyland, managing partner of IBM's Global Business Services Public Sector.
Good morning, John.
Mr. Nyland: Good morning, Al.
Mr. Morales: Paul, let's start by providing some overall context for our listeners. Could you take a moment and share with us a sense of the history and mission of the U.S. Department of Transportation? When was it created, and what is its mission today?
Mr. Brubaker: Sure. DOT, the Department of Transportation, was created back in the Johnson administration, and came into operation, it was signed into law late 1966. And the first day of operation was April 1, 1967.
Mr. Morales: Could you perhaps provide us a little bit more specifics on how the Department is organized, the size of its budget, number of full-time employees, and perhaps a sense of your operations across the country?
Mr. Brubaker: Sure. Well, it is a national department here. We've got operations in all 50 states basically. And we have 60,000 employees and a $70.3 billion budget for air, maritime, and surface transportation missions.
Mr. Nyland: Paul, most of the agencies within the Department of Transportation are modal agencies. That is, they cover a mode of transportation, be it aviation, highway, railroad. But your administration is different. Could you tell us why this is the case? But more importantly, what are your responsibilities and duties as the RITA administrator? And can you provide us some specifics of your organization and how it supports the broader mission of the DOT?
Mr. Brubaker: Sure. You're correct in noting that most are considered modal agencies. And interestingly enough, we were created to really be a cross-modal organization, to look for innovative technologies that could be applied across the transportation modes, which is an exciting mission.
The other thing that we are tasked with doing is actually coordinating the Department's $1.2 billion research investment portfolio under the Norman Mineta Research and Special Programs Improvement Act, which actually stood us up. My role as RITA administrator is to make sure that there is a process in place to manage that portfolio, to make sure that we are acting as the portal for new technologies into the Transportation Department, and that we actually take a very cross-modal, multi-modal view of the transportation infrastructure in terms of moving passenger or freight.
Mr. Nyland: So regarding your responsibilities and duties, what do you see as your top three challenges that you're facing right now, and how are you addressing these challenges?
Mr. Brubaker: Well, RITA's a relatively new organization, so when I basically inherited RITA, there were some basic process issues that really needed to be dealt with, some organizational alignment issues. And what we did is we stood up a process by which we could achieve our statutory obligations under the Mineta Act, and we're in the process of doing those things right now. So I would say linking the research investment to the departmental priorities was a definite challenge that I think we've done a good job of standing up a process to address.
Achieving organizational alignment around sort of our overall strategic plan and our overall strategic objectives was important. I wanted to make sure that everybody in the organization really kind of understood what their role was, what the mission of the organization was, how they played a role in managing on a day-to-day basis, and how they contributed to the function of the mission and the performance of the mission. And also important was to make sure that people understood how they were going to be managed and measured with respect to organizational objectives.
Mr. Morales: So, Paul, I understand that you came to the Department after serving some time in the private sector as well as a previous career in the public sector.
Mr. Brubaker: Serving time, Albert? It makes it sound like --
Mr. Morales: Serving time, yeah.
Mr. Brubaker: It makes it sound like prison, so. It's not, believe me. I enjoy every moment of it.
Mr. Morales: Could you take a few moments and sort of describe your career path for our listeners and kind of tell us how you got started?
Mr. Brubaker: Sure. I came to government as a GS-7 GAO evaluator in the Atlanta Regional Office, so I worked for the General Accounting Office at the time, now the Government Accountability Office, and was trained to really perform cost schedule and performance audits of government programs. So it was great, great background. And after serving in GAO, which I loved, they spent a lot of time training us and providing us with a lot of really good professional development in terms of being able to kind of walk into a project or a department and really getting smart in a relatively short amount of time on what it took to make it tick, and then offer some suggestions for improvement. And that background has really served me pretty well here.
Then after I spent some time at GAO, I worked on Capitol Hill for -- at first I did a GAO detail to the Senate Appropriations Committee staff, which was pretty exciting, and I learned a little bit about the Hill and how things operate. And then I wound up working full-time on Capitol Hill for then-Senator William S. Cohen, a Republican from Maine, on his Senate Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, which was a subcommittee of the Governmental Affairs Committee. And there, I was hired on as chief investigator and then became the Republican staff director and worked on things like the Klinger-Cohen Act, which, you know, being a Senate guy, I would tell you that probably should have been named the Cohen-Klinger Act. But at any rate, I worked on that and then spent time at the private sector.
And then Secretary Cohen asked me to join him at the Pentagon to work in the information technology arena and actually, you know, I think his line to me was that, okay, you know, you helped draft this legislation, come over here and help me implement it. So that was a lot of fun and was very rewarding.
And then I went out into the private sector for a number of years and bought and sold a couple of small companies and was engaged in running marketing of a really fast-growing systems integration firm called SI International in Reston, and was working in a small start-up that was focused on collaboration and collaboration capabilities and driving those into leading organizations, both in government and the private sector.
And then I got a call from the White House and asked me if I was interested in joining the administration.
Mr. Morales: That's fantastic.
So Paul, as you kind of reflect back on all these experiences, say, your role as a DoD deputy CIO and perhaps your role as the CEO of a private entity, how have these experiences prepared you for your current role and perhaps shaped your management approach and leadership style over the years? And then finally, could you share perhaps some management lessons you've learned and brought to RITA from your private sector experiences?
Mr. Brubaker: Yeah, you bet. Particularly on the government side, though. Let me just address that first, because like the Pentagon and like the role I had in the Pentagon as the deputy chief information officer, we were obligated to execute a statutory requirement. And the same thing is true with RITA. We are obligated to implement the Mineta Act and all the requirements that underlie it. So what was real important when I walked through the door was to actually read the Mineta Act and understand it, and then make sure that we were aligned as an organization to achieve those objectives. So that was job one. And that's something that you only get if you've really kind of been in government and really understand how to navigate the statutory requirements.
Drawing from both the public sector background and the private sector background, what I knew had to happen was we had to get really clear about what the vision of the organization was. And that's easy because it really kind of reflects -- in a government organization, it really reflects the statutory requirements that you're obligated to meet. But you've got to have not just a vision, but you've got to have a plan. I mean, really kind of what are you going to do from a people, process, technology point of view, organizational point of view? How are you going to align to achieve your objectives? Not just -- when I'm speaking about resources, too, I'm also thinking in terms of people. How do you align your people? How do you align your budgets? And how do you make sure that you put the organization on a path that you can actually achieve and produce some sort of measurable results for the taxpayers?
So those lessons were really, really important. I recognized out of the gate, particularly from the private sector, that you've got to have really clear focus. You've got to be aligned to achieve your organizational objectives. You've got to have a strategic plan, be clear about your mission. And that plan, by the way, drives your process, all your supporting processes, how you align your people and your resources, how you measure effectiveness, and how you reward behavior.
Mr. Morales: So it's really about how to operationalize the vision which is already set forth, largely, in the legislation that you're taking on?
Mr. Brubaker: That's exactly right. That's exactly right.
Mr. Morales: Great, great.
What about the DOT's Transportation Vision for 2030? We will ask Paul Brubaker, administrator at the Research and Innovative Technology Administration within the U.S. Department of Transportation, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.
Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Paul Brubaker, administrator at the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, or RITA, within the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Also joining us in our conversation from IBM is John Nyland.
Paul, in our last segment, you outlined some of the key challenges you faced as administrator. If we can just transition a bit here, could you now describe some of the critical transportation challenges facing the country today and perhaps outline for us the current state of this country's transportation system and infrastructure?
Mr. Brubaker: Well, obviously, it's a very aged infrastructure. I don't have to tell the folks sitting around this table or folks listening this morning, probably some of whom are sitting behind a traffic construction site or an accident, that congestion is a major issue in this country. You know, if you talk to our transportation secretary, Mary Peters, she always talks about safety, system performance, and 21st century solutions. And those 21st century solutions are really all about improving the former two. They're all about improving the safety posture, reducing the number of crashes. And as a byproduct of reducing the number of crashes, we can also reduce congestion and actually benefit the environment by reducing greenhouse gases as we keep cars moving. But she also zeroes in on system performance, and that is really related to how we move people and how we move goods across this country.
Again, it's not just about automobile traffic, but it's also about air traffic. It's all about congestion on our waterways and in our ports. And these are really major, major issues. And one of RITA's missions is really to get our arms around, from a measurable perspective, the whole issue of safety as well as transportation system performance. And by introducing 21st century concepts, be it technology or be it economic innovations with congestion pricing, like we're doing through the Urban Partnership Agreements and hope to do it in New York City if the state legislature approves it, as well as San Francisco, I mean, as we begin to look at those types of innovations, it's really going to enable us to use the existing infrastructure much more efficiently and much more effectively.
But even from a research perspective -- I mean, as I mentioned, managing our research portfolio, we're looking at better ways to make informed decisions about resource allocation in terms of replacing roads, replacing bridges, as opposed to sort of the traditional model, which was, we've got a fixed amount of money through the Highway Trust Fund that's, incidentally, funded by gas taxes.
And also, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the fact that through better fuel economy standards, through transitions to alternative fuels, especially if they're hydrogen, and as we introduce plug-in hybrid technology and electric cars to the mix, that old model is not going to stand up to the future. And we've got to figure out how, from an innovative perspective, how we actually come up with some alternatives to the traditional gas tax. And I think some of the technologies that we're working on and some of the innovation and innovative approaches that we're following are really going to enable a different transportation funding paradigm, a different transportation operation paradigm in the future. And that's what's really exciting about this job.
Mr. Morales: Well, Paul, since you talk about the future here, could you tell us a bit more about DOT's Transportation Vision for 2030? To what extent will it guide future investment decisions and research? And how does it coordinate with the Transportation Research, Development, and Technology Program and the ITS Strategic Plan?
Mr. Brubaker: Well, the entire reason we came up with Transportation Vision for 2030 is because we recognized that even though the Department had a pretty broad strategic plan, we wanted to specifically link in an intermodal or a multi-modal fashion the Department's research and development investments towards some intermodal goals, some cross-modal goals. A lot of the modal plans and what have you really focus in on the modes, and we wanted to take a step back at sort of a higher level, specifically as it relates to research, and figure out, okay, what is it that we should be building towards. And that's why we came up with Transportation Vision for 2030.
We laid out a number of goals, a half a dozen goals, very specific goals, around things like reducing congestion and focusing on safety, as well as some environmental goals, improving environmental stewardship. But we did it in an intermodal way. And we actually focused on four main themes. One was passenger movement. Another one was movement of freight. And then we had innovative financing and public-private partnerships. And then the last one, which was really technology, it was how to introduce technology and innovation across the prior three areas and really take the transportation paradigm to the next level in a set time frame, which is -- you know, we chose the year 2030 because it seemed like a pretty reasonable time horizon; that we can actually begin planning today, planning our research investment today, that will support the vision that we outlined for 2030. And that's just really an exciting opportunity to really link research, our research investment, with a strategic objective.
Mr. Nyland: Paul, could you tell us more about the Research Planning and Coordination Program, and how it ensures that DOT is making the most of its billion-dollar annual investment in research and technology? And more specifically, you referred to the concept of applying the CPIC concept, or the capital planning and investment control concept, to research. Could you elaborate on such an application, and is there a formal process in place to reevaluate and shift the RD&T research strategies and priorities accordingly?
Mr. Brubaker: This is really exciting. The capital planning and investment control process is a mature process that really was defined and required, again, going back to the old DCIO days at the Pentagon, but even more importantly, before that, to the Hill when I got an opportunity to work on the Information Technology Management Reform Act, or Klinger-Cohen, which actually required the development of a CPIC concept, our CPIC process for the federal government.
And my friends accuse me of only having one good idea in my life and I just keep trying to apply it to everything. And there's a certain element of truth to that, but I looked at how we were managing the research portfolio at the Department, and it really lent itself to this type of a process. So rather than reinvent the wheel, we were able to leverage best practices that had been developed over the last decade or so through the CPIC concept, including leveraging GAO's ITIM Guide, Information Technology Information Management Guide, which lays out a really robust maturity model for selecting, controlling, and evaluating information technology capital projects. And we just applied that same maturity model to what I'm calling RPIC, or the research planning and investment control process. It's based on best practices. It's a very mature model. And in some ways, I find it a little easier to apply to research than I do information technology investments, because the business cases are slightly different.
I still would like most of the research or virtually all of the research to really be outcome-based, which is consistent with what CPIC really tries to drive home. So we looked at this model and we thought, you know what, we can really tee this up and manage through our governance process. We've got a governing body called the RD&T Planning Council, and we're actually about to change that name to the RD&T Investment Board. Really, the whole notion there is that this governance body, which is made up of the modal administrators, will have a say in making sure that the research investments across the Department and even within their modes are consistent with the strategic objectives that we seek to achieve as a department. It's criteria-based, it's fairly objective.
We're developing portfolios. We've got nine portfolios that we've developed, all around from a multi-modal and intermodal perspective, dealing with things like human factors research, dealing with things like materials, logistics and supply chain, and really focusing the research investment on an intermodal basis, which is very, very exciting. It's unprecedented, and we're pretty thrilled to be standing up a relatively mature process in a department that really hadn't done it yet. And it's an exciting time for the research community in the Department to really sort of rally around this and take it to a completely different level.
Mr. Nyland: Let me switch gears on you here. From a strategic perspective, could you describe the vision behind the concept of intelligent transportation systems, or ITS?
Mr. Brubaker: Sure. It's real simple: We want to build vehicles that don't crash, and provide drivers with mobility solutions and assistance, presented in a user-friendly manner that doesn't distract the driver, that offers him value added. I mean, imagine if you will going out to your car in your garage, lifting up the garage door, getting in the car, turn the ignition, and then having the car basically tell you, look, John, it doesn't really make any sense for you to drive in the Clara Barton Parkway today; there's been an accident. Your best bet is to drive to a Metro station and get into work that way, and this is about how long we think it's going to take. And by the way, we've already -- you know, if you want, we can prepay your parking and buy you a farecard. So that's the kind of stuff that we're looking at from a mobility perspective.
From a safety perspective, I mean, we've seen a lot of evidence and a lot of research in this area. We actually have technology today that would prevent cars from crashing into each other. The trick is to fine-tune that, make sure that the legal privacy issues are dealt with, install it, deploy it, bring the cost down, and actually work with the OEMs and the automobile manufacturers and the after-market manufacturers to begin deploying these types of solutions. But they exist and they are out there, and we find it very exciting, particularly from the safety perspective.
I mean, if you look at the fact that we have 6 million vehicle crashes every year in the United States, at an economic cost anywhere -- if you look at the AAA study that was just released, I think they said $167 billion a year is the related economic cost of these crashes. We did a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study back in 2000 that suggested that that annual cost was somewhere in the neighborhood of $204 billion. Either way you cut it, it's a very large number. And if you think about it, it's fatalities, it's injuries, it's medical bills, it's repair costs, it's increases in insurance premiums, it's lost work. There's a huge economic cost that is attributed to these 6 million crashes, not to mention the fact that non-recurring congestion is often the result of a fender-bender somewhere, an automobile accident or a vehicle crash. So the important thing to note there is we can actually, by leveraging these ITS solutions, intelligent transportation solutions, on the safety side really improve mobility.
And also, we know from research that's been done at a number of our university transportation centers that moving vehicles contribute a lot less in terms of greenhouse gases than those who are sitting in traffic, so it actually benefits the environment. So I think the time is right to really energize the intelligent transportation systems program around the safety issue, with the real goal of significantly -- and by "significantly," I'm talking somewhere in the neighborhood of -- you know, this isn't official policy here, but it's what I'm using to sort of drive the discussion inside the Department and outside the Department -- but saying, you know, can we reduce those 6 million crashes by 90 percent over the course of the next 20 years or so? That is a laudable goal.
And if you think about it, if we could reduce those crashes, we could also reduce the number of injuries, and certainly the 42,000 people who lose their lives on the nation's highways every year. You know, if you reduce that by 90 percent, you've got a lot less sad families out there. There's a very clear and compelling business case around intelligent transportation systems.
Mr. Nyland: Staying with this theme, could you elaborate on the national ITS architecture? To what extent does this provide a common structure for the design of intelligent transportation systems and provide overall guidance to ensure that systems, products, services are all interoperable without limiting the design options of the stakeholder?
Mr. Brubaker: Yeah. And as you probably guessed as an IT guy, I haven't met an architecture I didn't love, so in this case, we view it as a real positive. I mean, we want to have a national ITS architecture to ensure interoperability. Most of these projects are going to be rolled out at the state and local level, so we need to make sure that folks are building to appropriate standards.
The only thing that I'm a little concerned with with the national ITS architecture, and we're taking steps to address this, is that it's a little bit rigid in the sense that it hasn't really taken into account advances in communications technology. So we periodically update that, obviously. But it's really kind of wedded to a couple of technologies that, just to get specific, DSRC, dedicated short-range communication, radios, which will absolutely and always be a part of the ITS architecture, but it doesn't take into account things like wifi and mesh networking and Internet Protocol Version 6, which is going to allow self-healing networks and a lot of communications on the move, if you will.
And we're also not necessarily looking toward some lessons learned. And this is also the beauty of having been at the Defense Department. I mean, I look at what the defense community does in the area of Blue Force Tracking and communications on the move, and I truly believe that there are some lessons there that we can take into our national architecture that could really enable some of the outcomes that I described earlier.
Mr. Morales: That's great. So sticking with this sort of theme of congestion, according to a recent Texas Transportation Institute report in 2005, the nation's urban congestion problem resulted in about 4.2 billion hours of travel delay, 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel, and a net urban congestion cost of nearly $80 billion.
Could you tell us about the DOT's national strategy to reduce congestion on America's transportation network, which is also known as the National Congestion Relief Initiative?
Mr. Brubaker: Sure, I'd love to tell you about it. Yeah, the TTI, Texas Transportation Institute, report is done by a researcher, led by a researcher down there by the name of Tim Lomax, who is just a first-class individual and has done a lot to really drive home and quantify the debate around congestion and congestion management.
Congestion is one of the single largest threats to our nation's economic prosperity. I mean, there's just no doubt about it. It takes people away from their families, but it also has a huge economic cost. It drives up the cost associated with operating our supply chain, and it is just eating away at national productivity. So we really need to get around this and get around this quickly. And both Secretary Mineta and Secretary Peters are committed to this congestion initiative, which is premised on the fact that there are existing innovations and strategies that can really provide relief now. And we want to leverage some experiences -- overseas, for example, the London Congestion Initiative, which has been very successful in reducing congestion -- and taking those best practices and then adopting them in the United States.
So we can't be all things to all people, but what we wanted to do was essentially identify a number of leading communities that would really compete for the opportunity to have demonstrations funded in their areas. And what we're interested in is better signage, everything that ranges from like better signage to traffic incident management to traveler information to better signal control, and some advances in that area. And we're just really excited about some of the initiatives that we've undertaken under the congestion initiative, and we're already beginning to see some benefits to the dialogue.
And once we begin to roll these out and get some HOT lanes built, like, for example, in Miami, which is one of the cities that we've funded through the Urban Partnership Agreement, you know, we'll see some benefits, some measurable benefits. Once we can see congestion pricing in New York City, I think you're going to see a significant reduction in rush-hour congestion. And we're just very, very excited about the program, and we think we're going to -- well, we know we're going to produce measurable results for the taxpayer, and that's what it's really all about.
Mr. Morales: That'll be fantastic. Paul, in preparation for our discussion here, I came across something called "SafeTrip-21." What is SafeTrip-21, and to what extent will it contribute to the restructuring of the Vehicle Infrastructure Integration Program? Specifically, how will it accelerate the testing and deployment of safety and congestion-reducing technologies? And to what extent will SafeTrip-21 incorporate lessons learned in operational tests currently underway in partnerships with automakers, OEM suppliers, and state and local governments?
Mr. Brubaker: You bet. Well, SafeTrip-21 is really an exciting operational test that is going to deploy soon, November of this year at the ITS World Congress, which is going to be held in New York City the week of November 14th. It's actually an operational test of existing ITS-related technologies, intelligent transportation systems technologies.
VII, vehicle infrastructure integration, is a subset of intelligent transportation systems. So what we've actually done is we've gone out and we've asked the private sector, academia, think tanks, practitioners, state and local governments to bring us ideas and best practices and technologies that they're currently using. And industry's really done a phenomenal job of stepping up to the plate with some really compelling innovations. And what we're attempting to do is integrate these existing technologies and show that we can measurably improve safety and transportation system performance, or mobility, through the integration of existing technologies. And SafeTrip-21 is really designed to do that, to demonstrate that through better use of information, navigations, communications, technologies, and protocols, that we can really make a measurable impact.
Mr. Morales: That's great.
How is DOT advancing bio-based and alternative fuels? We will ask Paul Brubaker, administrator at the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.
Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Paul Brubaker, administrator at the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, or RITA, within the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Also joining us in our conversation from IBM is John Nyland.
Paul, I understand that one of the major divisions within your administration is the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center. Can you describe for us what its mission is and how it's different from a data center or a research group?
Mr. Brubaker: Sure. The Volpe Center could best be described as a transportation think tank. It's an internationally recognized center of transportation and logistics expertise. And they do a variety of projects for both the Department of Transportation and other government agencies, private sector organizations, and even some international governments and organizations. So they don't have any direct appropriations. They're a fee-for-service organization. So 100 percent of their operating budget comes from sponsored work. So it's really entrepreneurial. It could best be described as sort of a government professional services firm, but really zeroed in, focused on research.
And it's located in Cambridge, a couple of blocks from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I think that's your alma mater, isn't it?
Mr. Morales: It is.
Mr. Brubaker: So we're interested in making sure that Volpe has the best and the brightest folks, if you will, and well-trained people, well-trained research professionals in the area of transportation, logistics, supply chain, safety, mobility. And actually, those folks are sort of taking the management lead, if you will, or the deployment lead -- I shouldn't call it "deployment," I'll call it "operational testing" -- the operational test lead on the SafeTrip-21 project that we just spoke about.
Mr. Morales: That's great.
So transitioning a bit here, Paul, there's been a lot of discussion regarding alternative fuels. Could you tell us a bit more about your research in advancing bio-based and alternative fuels, including hydrogen, which you mentioned earlier? Specifically, what role is DOT playing in meeting the President's commitment to developing a hydrogen-powered transportation system?
Mr. Brubaker: Okay. Well, as you know, in 2003, the President during his State of the Union Address announced a Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, talking in terms of our addiction to foreign oil and the fact that we really need to be researching some alternatives. What's exciting now is that a lot of this technology has advanced to the point where the vehicles are going through a low rate of initial production. And Honda, for example, has 100 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles that they're putting out on the market out in Southern California. The reason why they're focused on Southern California is because that's where the fueling infrastructure is. In fact, they're focused on three specific cities: Torrance is one, Santa Monica, and I forget the third. But they're focused in on exactly where the fueling infrastructure is because that's what they have to do.
GM, likewise, has a program where they've got 100 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles out on the road being tested in Washington, New York, and Southern California again, because that's where the fueling infrastructure is. We've got a station over on Benning Road, which many of you have probably been by, and we actually have an operational hydrogen fueling facility here in D.C., which is fairly accessible.
So we're doing a lot in the area. And we're very bullish on both biofuels, hydrogen, as well as battery technology that's being developed to really improve the operation of vehicles; reduce our dependence on foreign oil, which is, frankly, job one; and then also it's going to improve the environment. So it's sort of a triple whammy, if you will. It's really exciting to see the developments in hybrid, electric, gasoline-powered, plug-in hybrids, plug-in hybrids that use biofuels, that can use gasoline, that can use -- although our objective long term is to get off gasoline, but can also use hydrogen.
GM at the Consumer Electronics Show back in January rolled out something called the Cadillac Provok, which is a concept vehicle, but it's something that's built on a platform, a very flexible platform, that they can build hybrids on. And it's a plug-in hybrid hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that has photovoltaic cells on the roof. Now, these are planned to be on the market in the 2014, 2015 time frame. But you got to understand that there's a lot of research that's done in support of that.
And frankly, hydrogen is ready for prime time. The long pole in the tent here, which is what we're also experiencing on the biofuels and the E85 area, is the infrastructure, is that fueling infrastructure that needs to be built. And we're right now doing some research and promoting some innovative thinking around how can we actually jump-start the deployment of the infrastructure in a meaningful way so that we can compress the timeline that the vehicle manufacturers currently have to make these vehicles available. And I think we're going to be pretty successful in doing that.
Mr. Morales: That's great. Now, Paul, there's a direct correlation between the volume of freight transportation and an increasing population and increasing economic activity. In fact, during the course of one year, over 19 billion tons of freight valued at over $13 trillion was carried over 4.4 trillion miles within the U.S.
Could you describe the trends in freight transportation and identify the key research being pursued to improve freight safety and reduce congestion?
Mr. Brubaker: Yeah, I'd be delighted to. Obviously, that is critical to our economic well-being as a nation, and it's something that we've been devoting a lot of time and energy toward. You know, as you mentioned, your statistics are spot-on. And our port capacity, our infrastructure around the ports, are creating some pretty significant bottlenecks that really need to be addressed. And the level of innovation and what we've been funding in terms of innovative research is really going to come up with some of the strategies and some of the new ways of moving freight and clearing freight through ports and speeding it to market.
But the congestion, this has also played into the whole congestion equation, particularly as our population's going to continue to grow. Demands for goods and services are going to grow. You know, the value of foreign trade increased nearly 200 percent in the last two decades, including a huge 1,200 percent growth in U.S.-China trade between '89 and 2007. And then you look at in the context of NAFTA and you look at some of the border issues that we're dealing with, we're trying to figure out how we can speed goods into the country and out of the country on our export side, but really making sure that the freight flows freely throughout the country. Because as it gets clogged up, there's a significant problem. So we're funding research right now to really understand, to better understand where those bottlenecks are occurring.
Obviously, I mean, anybody who drives by Long Beach can tell you that there are some infrastructure issues around Long Beach and around the Port of Long Beach. But at the same time, there are some non-obvious bottlenecks that we're aware of based on some research that we're doing at Georgia Tech and some other universities, where freight winds up sitting on rail spurs or on the docks for inland waterways. And we need to really be cognizant of exactly how the logistics system works in the United States. And what we can do -- and we want to make sure that we have the strategies that are based on the real problems, not some of the perceived problems.
So we've done things like we've got the congestion initiative, obviously, which I spoke about earlier, but we've got Corridors to the Future Program, which really gets at a lot of those freight corridors and the movement of goods, both on rail and on the highways, as well as our National Cooperative Freight Research Program, or NCFRP, which we manage. We try to look at the whole freight industry objectively, like I mentioned. We leveraged some of the research that we're doing at the universities to ultimately ensure that freight flows freely across the United States.
Mr. Nyland: Paul, there's been a lot of discussion around the theme of collaboration. And as we noted, the RD&T program emphasizes partnership, coordination, and information sharing across the federal government and with universities, state and local governments, industry, and other organizations. What kind of partnerships are you developing to improve operations or outcomes at RITA? And could you describe some specific success stories that illustrate this approach in action?
Mr. Brubaker: Sure. I can tell you what we're -- one of the key elements of our strategic plan going forward is improved collaboration. And we're aligning, like I mentioned at the outset of the program, to ensure that we're focused on collaboration capability.
I mentioned the portfolios, the portfolio management process that we're engaged in through the RPIC process, research planning and investment control. And I mentioned that there were nine communities of interest. Well, likewise, I mentioned the Volpe National Transportation Center. We're reorganizing the Volpe Center into eight Centers of Innovation. And the reason why there is eight is because there are -- I mentioned nine portfolios. One of the nine portfolios is materials. Well, Volpe doesn't do any materials research, but the remaining eight communities of interest really translate well into the Centers of Innovation that we're standing up, but they're identical.
The whole reason for this is so that we can begin to share knowledge across organizations, be it universities, be it the private sector that we've engaged in in conducting some research, or whether it's the Volpe National Transportation Center around these communities of interest so that we're doing a much better job of collaborating, of sharing knowledge, of increasing the level of research that the Department funds through collaboration and knowledge sharing.
And oftentimes, what I found when I walked into this role is that research kind of gets done on an island. And the folks who are conducting the research, particularly on the university side, aren't necessarily sharing that knowledge with another university who may be engaged in similar, very similar, or in some cases identical research. And what we want to make sure of is that we have a collaboration capability that's built leveraging commercial, off-the-shelf software that we currently own as a department. But we want to create a collaboration capability where we can begin to share that knowledge across what have traditionally been sort of research stovepipes, if you will; or as we call them here in Washington, silos of excellence.
But that's the whole notion behind these nine communities of interest, is really create a framework by which we can actually effectively collaborate and share knowledge among the researchers. And we're doing it out of necessity as well. As I go out and I talk to folks in the universities and in the research community, particularly the younger folks, the Generation Y folks, they really expect collaboration. These are the folks who IM and, you know, instant messaging and are used to wikis and really collaborating. And we've got to provide that kind of capability to them if we're going to attract sort of this next generation transportation worker into this field.
Mr. Morales: Now, Paul, I only have a minute left, but I want to continue this theme. Could you tell us a bit more about DOT's largest university programs, or the University Transportation Centers, otherwise known as UTCs? To what extent does the recent expansion of the UTC program present new opportunities to make even greater contributions to transportation research, education, and technology transfer?
Mr. Brubaker: Well, it's a vital element of our department's effort to make us more competitive in the global marketplace. You know, we mentioned the operation of the supply chain. And what we really want to do is -- and congestion and safety and a number of other issues, and what we really want to do is we want to make sure that we're attracting the best minds in the country to these problems; that we're asking them to develop solutions; and that we're also really training the next generation of transportation leaders in this country. And that's what the UTC program's really all about.
We have -- I've been to a number of these. The Department invests about $77 million every year to fund the UTC program. And in the last 20 years, that program has grown from about 10 regional centers to about 60 centers, involving 120 universities today. So this is really an opportunity for us to basically build a knowledge base, a research base, and a tradition of strong transportation research around the country through this investment.
It's amazing. We require a match on all these investments. And it's amazing that the states have stepped up, the private industry has stepped up, and a number of other organizations have stepped up to match our contribution to the UTC program. And to go out there and listen to these graduate students who are working on some of the most incredible projects -- I was just at UC Berkeley not that long ago, and there was a whole host of Ph.D. students who were presenting their dissertation topics, and it's everything that we just talked about in terms of the major challenges. So they're doing really relevant research and developing some very interesting concepts.
And heretofore, you mentioned -- we were talking about collaboration a minute ago. You know, heretofore, those dissertations would get written and they might wind up on somebody's MySpace page in a virtual library somewhere. But oftentimes, they didn't get to the people, the decision-makers, if you will, to really affect changes in policy and process and thinking that are really going to help us solve these problems going forward. So the UTCs present a phenomenal opportunity for us to reach in to really innovative minds -- both young and old, by the way; there are a number of non-traditional students in these programs -- and get their thinking on how we can best address these solutions. Because Washington, despite our best efforts, we don't have a monopoly on good ideas. So these ideas often come from these universities.
I was just out at Missouri Science and Technology University. That was incredible. The stuff that they were doing. There was a fellow out there who actually invented a hydrogen reformer that takes ethanol crude beer, which is a preproduction or pre-distillation step of biofuels, of ethanol, and he takes it and he converts it, or reforms it, if you will, into hydrogen, pure hydrogen, that can be used in a vehicle. And to me, that's a phenomenal development, because it's a technology that leverages the whole ethanol area, the whole biofuels piece. But it does it in such a way that when it's in the crude beer form, it's not a hazardous material, so it's easy to ship. And that's in the middle of Missouri. I mean, who'd have thunk it, you know? Except those folks from Missouri, who -- it is after all the Show Me State.
But it's phenomenal. It's just absolutely phenomenal. And there are pockets of that kind of innovation all over the country. So we've got to collaborate with those folks. We've got to know what they're doing. I mean, we're funding it, so we ought to do a much better job of figuring out how we can use what they develop and figure out how we can inject that thinking into our transportation plans.
Mr. Morales: That's great.
What does the future hold for DOT's Research and Innovative Technology Administration? We will ask Paul Brubaker, administrator at the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.
Mr. Morales: Welcome back to our final segment on The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Paul Brubaker, administrator at the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, or RITA, within the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Also joining us in our conversation from IBM is John Nyland.
Paul, transitioning now to the future, could you give us a sense of some of the key trends that will impact the U.S. transportation system in, say, the next three to five years?
Mr. Brubaker: Sure, I'd be delighted to. You know, one is the financing of the infrastructure. That is going to be very, very critical going forward. As I mentioned before, as we move to alternative fuel vehicles, of plug-in hybrids, of battery-powered vehicles, the traditional source of funding, the Highway Trust Fund, is going to be really significant. So we're going to have to be very, very innovative irrespective of who wins the next political contest for President. We're going to have to be very, very creative in how we address these things long term.
Energy efficiency is going to be a key issue; you know, environmental stewardship. Congestion is just going to continue to affect freight and passenger modes. And we are really focused on those three areas in terms of what we're going to do in terms of innovation, new technology going forward. The other one, of course, is intelligent transportation systems, which enable really kind of all three of those areas.
For example, some of the things that we're doing with transponder technology can really impact -- you know, people can be contributing to the transportation infrastructure through user fees that are mileage-based, and that's an intelligent transportation system application. That will help us address some of the funding issues that we've got with the gas tax as people begin to use less gasoline. Again, ITS impacting energy efficiency, as I mentioned before. Also, the alternative fuels and hydrogen and battery-powered vehicles are going to be pretty significant in terms of energy efficiency and environmental stewardship, and finally get us off sources of oil where we buy it from people who don't particularly care for us or our way of life. And then, again, ITS really will play a role in reducing congestion.
Mr. Nyland: Paul, on a broader basis, what are some of the major opportunities and challenges your organization will encounter in the future? And how do you envision RITA will evolve over the next few years to meet them?
Mr. Brubaker: Well, the first thing, of course, is just people. You know, the people that we hire, the people that we can attract, the people that we can bring on board and get folks interested and involved in sort of that whole transportation research world. I mean, how do we attract the best and the brightest is definitely a challenge that we're looking at from an organizational perspective.
The other piece is really accommodating the velocity of technology. I mean, Moore's Law is alive and well in the technology arena and -- named for Gordon Moore, the former chairman of Intel. And it basically says that the computing capacity doubles every 18 months and the price gets cut in half. Well, accommodating sort of long-range strategic plans in a government organization that's really sort of born out of the industrial age in an information age environment is always going to be a challenge. And the research community, as we sort of lay out two-, three-, four-, five-year research plans, we've got to understand that they need to be flexible enough to adjust. And that's going to be a challenge to not just our organization as RITA, but as DOT and as the United States government as a whole tries to take sort of its industrial age structure and achieve information age results.
Mr. Morales: So, Paul, you've had a very successful and extensive career within the public service. What advice might you give someone who perhaps is thinking about a career in public service?
Mr. Brubaker: I would just encourage them to do it and to be patient. The reason why I say "be patient" is, getting a job in the U.S. Federal Government, particularly if you've got a lot of talent, is hard relative to the other options that you have. The process is slow. It's somewhat cumbersome. You know, you still have to fill out an SF-171. You know, we haven't done a particularly good job of streamlining the hiring process for federal employees, whereas we're competing with the same people. Particularly when we're looking to achieve some of our hiring goals, we are often competing with the private sector, who can do on-the-spot hires of people who they recognize as being very talented and have the right resume for the job.
I had a circumstance like this a few days ago, where I was actually talking to somebody about the potential of joining the federal government. The person had a number of offers on the table. And I said, well, you've got a great resume. You've got a great background. You'd be ideal for this. But I've got to have you -- you're going to have to go through a competitive process. And as much as we like you, you may not get this job. And that tends to -- that's frustrating for all parties.
I mean, we've got a mission to achieve. And we've got to make sure that at least in the future and this will be a problem for another administration, although, you know, I definitely have some views about it, so I'd be happy to talk to whoever winds up getting the OPM job, but we've got to really streamline that process and make it a lot more agile and a lot more responsive to what the hiring realities are out there in the world.
And if there are jobs to be had, then, you know, the federal government is kind of, you know, the hirer. And we can sort of look at our processes and say, yeah, that's fine. But -- and we're accomplishing the mission and being able to hire folks. But as I say this out on the road all the time, I say to work in the U.S. Federal Government at this point, you've either got to be incredibly dedicated or exceptionally incompetent, one of the two, to wade through that process and wait the kind of time frames that we're asking you to wait on in order to get hired.
So I view that as a competitive disadvantage. But if somebody wants to work here, it's the best job in the world. I mean, nowhere else can you -- and I go back to my days as a relatively young GS-7 working at the U.S. General Accounting Office, and I think there is nothing better than that kind of an experience for a young person, or even somebody who's mid-career or thinking about a second career, to get involved and roll up your sleeves and really make a difference for the American taxpayer. There's nothing more rewarding than that.
Mr. Morales: That's wonderful.
Paul, unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time. I want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule. But more importantly, John and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country, both in your roles at the DoD and now the Department of Transportation.
Mr. Brubaker: Yeah, my pleasure. It's just been a delight to be here and talk about these things that are obviously pretty near and dear to us as we head out and we try to make a difference for the taxpayer. If anybody has any questions, I'm fairly easy to reach: email@example.com. And if you have any questions or comments or want to take a look at more about what we do, hitting our RITA website is a good place to do it. And Transportation Vision for 2030, which we talked about a lot, is actually on that site. So if you go to www.rita r-i-t-a .dot.gov, you can access our website.
Mr. Morales: That's fantastic.
This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Paul Brubaker, administrator at the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, or RITA, within the U.S. Department of Transportation.
My co-host has been John Nyland, managing partner for IBM's Global Business Services in the public sector.
As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who may not be able to hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.
For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.
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