The Business of Government Hour

 

About the show

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The executives discuss their careers and the management challenges facing their organizations. Past government executives include Administrators, Chief Financial Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Operating Officers, Commissioners, Controllers, Directors, and Undersecretaries.

The interviews

Join the IBM Center for a weekly conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business.

Conrad Lautenbacher interview

Friday, October 21st, 2005 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"NOAA is a unique organization in terms of its ability to influence. NOAA has all Earth Science fields together in one organization. That gives us an important leadership role of further bringing those fields together in the U.S. and globally."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 10/22/2005
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs...

Missions and Programs

Complete transcript: 

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Arlington, Virginia

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning, and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, partner in charge of The IBM Center for The Business of Government. We created the Center 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 www.businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation this morning is with Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, U.S. Navy, Retired, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Good morning, Admiral.

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: Good morning. It's a pleasure to be with you today.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Dion Rudnicki.

Good morning, Dion.

Mr. Rudnicki: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Admiral, let's begin by talking about NOAA and giving our listeners some context. Could you describe its history and how it fits into the Department of Commerce?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: NOAA is a relatively new organization if you look at the history of the government. NOAA was formed by executive order in 1972, roughly, and so it's been a 30-year organization in the making. It has roots that go back to 1807 with the Coast and Geodetic Survey begun as the first scientific agency of the U.S. government, put in place because people realized they needed to bring commerce in and out of our ports; they needed to have surveys of the harbors; they needed to have a property rights system where people could measure and determine who owned which piece of property. So you needed to have a reference system. So this was kind of a basic, fundamental -- the beginnings of commerce in the United States, and so it began with that Coast and Geodetic Survey, and now it includes fisheries; it includes solar science; it includes weather; it includes the coastal zone management; it includes researching all aspects of living and coastal resources on the oceans along our coasts and from the sun to the mud, as we say.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you think about the size of your organization? In particular, I'm interested in the team and the skills of the folks who you work with.

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: It's an extraordinarily educated, intellectual, skilled team of scientists. We have every type of scientific field of endeavor included in our portfolio of employees, and we're all over the country. So you look at some 13,000, roughly, employees; they are very skilled, very knowledgeable, a large percentage of them have advanced degrees -- Master's and Ph.D.s in meteorology to benthic biology.

Mr. Lawrence: Now, when you talked about the mission, you described research, and I couldn't help but think that research and science goes on a couple places in the government -- NASA comes to mind; the National Science Foundation, just to name a few. How do you relate to them and also interact with them?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: Both of those organizations are extremely important. We have partnerships with them, certainly in the scientific areas where we have mutual needs. First of all, NSF is the basic research organization of the United States. You can go to any college campus and knock on any door, and most people will come out and tell you that National Science Foundation is very important. They provide grants; they provide stipends; they provide the fundamental resource picture for many, many colleges and universities, and many of the people in my organization got their start by working on NSF grants and by being post-doctoral fellows and that sort of thing. So NSF carries out basic research.

You think of NASA, you have to think of space science and research using satellites, building instruments, using those instruments to improve our understanding of the atmosphere and the earth. So they have a -- I don't want to call it a niche market; it's a rather large market -- but it does deal with space. And they have applied science. NOAA does applied science mostly in the field of in situ -- or on the earth, in the ocean, in the atmosphere types of measuring devices. You put them together with NASA, and you have a very complete portfolio of ways in which we can improve our understanding of the earth and using it for economic benefit.

Mr. Rudnicki: Admiral, what is your role and responsibilities as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, and also as administrator of NOAA?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: It's an interesting situation. It's a double-hat position. When the agency was formed, obviously there was a discussion within the government as to where it belongs, and the word that came down was that Commerce was a natural place for it to be. And you can think of other places where this agency might fit, but it is a natural in Commerce. Thirty percent of our GDP directly depends on the kinds of information that NOAA provides every day, from weather reports and hazardous storms, to fisheries management and coastal zone management along our coasts. It is fundamental to the health of our economy, and it's also an environmental agency, so you have this direct connection. And it belongs in Commerce as a piece of a broad portfolio of what makes our country wealthy and allows us to build the kind of society that people can be proud of.

Mr. Rudnicki: And what were your previous experiences before being appointed as Under Secretary in December of 2001?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: Well, I've had sort of an interesting career. I call myself sort of one-third Naval officer, one-third scientist, and one-third bureaucrat. I say that in a positive sense, because I do believe we need people in Washington and in other government agencies to manage and to worry about the public's business. I spent 40 years in the United States Navy and worked my way through the system. I am a surface officer by trade, for those people who know the Navy a little bit; I drove destroyers, essentially. I have a Ph.D. from Harvard University in Applied Mathematics, mostly specializing in fluid dynamics. My Ph.D. thesis was on the propagation of tsunamis, which has now become a popular topic, although it hasn't been up until now. It's fascinating how many people are interested in my background at this point.

And in the Navy, I also worked with budget, finance, resource management, systems analysis. So I would spend time at sea, working on the oceans, in the atmosphere, and then come to Washington and work on how to manage this huge defense establishment that we have that's one of the best in the world, and obviously very important for the United States' security interests. So I have that background of scientist, of managing money, and of being interested in managing large organizations and trying to achieve certain results, which is obviously an important part of my military background.

I've also been the consultant in the private sector after I retired, to defense industries. I've been working for primarily one company. I've also been the president of CORE -- the Consortium for Oceanographic Research and Education -- which is a group of the universities and aquaria of this nation that have come together to ensure that the public understands the value of our oceans. It includes institutions as well-known as Woods Hole and Scripps and University of Washington, from one coast to the other. It's a very interesting organization. I've also been the president of a couple of boards on private nonprofit organizations as I've gone through my career, so I have a sort of an interesting broad mix and background.

Mr. Rudnicki: Well, given that diversity in background, how do you apply those experiences to your current job?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: Well, I think there's a great need for the benefits and the mission that NOAA has in supporting the United States and supporting the world, and that in fact the challenges that we face in sustainable economic development and managing our environment are large-scale challenges. They must be managed at a government and international level; you cannot do it with two or three people on a post-doctoral thesis in one university, examining one particular item for two months and then building a report. The issues of trying to deal with climate change and trying to deal with ecosystem management of our fisheries, of trying to ensure that our coastal development makes sense; that we're not destroying the environment we're living in; that we're producing economic benefit for people and doing it much more efficiently than we have in the past, requires large-scale actions.

It requires not only NOAA working together, it requires the federal government working with regional governments, working with the private sector, and then amplify that onto the world scene. So there are huge challenges in managing large-scale operations in the environment and our economy.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me focus in on your description of management. As I heard you describe your career, I picked out your public service, your work in the private sector, and also a great deal exposure to the academic community. I wonder if you can compare the different management styles across those three different sectors.

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: They are very different, as you work from one to another. Let me say first of all, there's a baseline of consistency, and that is human politics and human nature are the same in each one of those organizations. So if you're able to understand one, you can certainly understand another and work in that environment. But the factors that drive each one are obviously much different. In the private sector, for instance, there's pretty much -- and you can take issue with me -- there's usually a single mission to a company; they have a very directed purpose: we build computers, or we build cars, or we provide legal services. And they have a bureaucracy and hierarchy that are dedicated to that one purpose. They have a board, and they have stockholders that are all focused on that one particular mission of that company. And so that makes it a little easier.

When you go to government, we have 435 members who are on our board; they come from all parts of the United States; they all have different ideas of what our mission should look like, particularly in their areas and with respect to their needs. So you're serving a large variety of people and interests, and that makes it a challenge. You also have different personnel systems between the private and the public sectors, and those systems obviously are set up on the government side to ensure fairness to employees; that you cannot have political vendettas visited upon career personnel, and that there's a certain amount of security. In the private sector, there's more what I would say adherence to the purpose and mission of the organization, and people are very much directed towards that, based on the board of directors.

And I guess the final thing -- I guess you talk about the non-profit side, the NGO side. That's a place where you need to be dedicated to your mission, but not expect to make a lot of money, because you're not going to do it.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting comparison.

Integration is a major theme within NOAA. What does this mean, and why is it important? We'll ask NOAA's administrator, Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, to explain this to us when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and today's conversation is with Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, U.S. Navy, retired; Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmospheres; and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is Dion Rudnicki.

Admiral, can you give us a brief overview of NOAA's strategic plan and how the priorities are set in place for the 21st century?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: Yes, I would love to do that. The strategic planning process, I think, is fundamental to any organization, so let's look at it just as a work list. What is it you want to do, and why do you want to do it, and how are you going to get there? So a strategic plan is not something that sits on the administrator's desk in a glossy form that you pass to a visitor who comes in and would like to see something about NOAA; it is in fact a working document, needs to be updated once a year, which we are doing in NOAA at this point. It is a living document. Obviously, in the private sector, they update them even more quickly, depending on your quarterly results. But we at least do it on a yearly basis.

The object is to look at our long-range goals, to then build some programs that allow us to work on those goals, translate those to budgets, then execute them in the budget year, look at results, measure the results -- metrics, and then feed that back into the process. And so you have a living process; we call it PPBES -- Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution System -- it's a strategic management system that allows you to build a strategic plan and take it all the way to the budget.

Now, the four themes that we have come to from a rather rigorous system of having constituent surveys, constituent meetings, taxpayer meetings, internal meetings, is four major themes. First of all, the ecosystem approach to management of coastal and ocean resources -- extremely important for us to be able to not manage things on a one-item, one-incident basis. Everything is connected in the physical and biological chemical world; we must learn to manage that way. It's an important theme and important set of programs.

Next is to understand climate change and climate variabilities and how it applies to the way we are living and the way we'll have to live and adapt and mitigate in the future. Third is weather and water. The water cycle is extremely important; it's not just weather, it's how it deals with water, which is the significantly most important resource in the world today, and one which will become more and more scarce as we go forward, with six billion, soon to be nine billion people.

And then finally, very important for this country and the rest of the world, is environmentally safe and economically efficient transportation. Transportation is the glue that holds the world, this global orb, together. Maritime transportation, air transportation, surface transportation all depend on understanding the kinds of things that NOAA does day by day. All of our programs really fit in to those four categories, and we connect them so that there'll be outputs that give us measurable results of whether we're making progress in each of those four areas.

Mr. Rudnicki: The December 26th tsunami that ravaged South Asia all affected personally in the U.S. and around the globe, and now it has us in the U.S. thinking about how something could happen in the U.S. from a disaster perspective. How likely is it for a tsunami to happen here on the coast, and how is the U.S. prepared for such an occurrence?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: The short answer up front -- and I'll explain a little more -- obviously, the Pacific area is more dangerous to us than the Atlantic area is. The Pacific has a number of tectonic plates that have subduction zones; basically, plates are colliding; that creates more seismic activity and the potential for more ocean disturbances that could turn into tsunamis. On the East Coast, for instance, the plates that we have are pulling apart in the mid-Atlantic ridge, so there's less of a chance that you're going to have the same kind of seismic activity that could generate a wave. However, there have been tsunamis in the Atlantic, and we have had tsunamis in the Pacific. Unfortunately, they don't occur all that often, so people forget about them from one event to the next, because the significant ones that people can see maybe occur every 30, 40, 50 years in the Atlantic, perhaps, and a little bit more frequently in the Pacific, although you read about them all the way around the rim of the Pacific, not just along our coastlines. So we're more vulnerable in the Pacific, less vulnerable in the Atlantic, but there are chances for significant tsunamis on the East Coast as well, and we need to protect ourselves on all coasts.

Mr. Rudnicki: I also understand that NOAA plans for the Global Earth Observation System of Systems, GEOSS, an international Earth-observing system that provides end-to-end alerts and visualization. Can you give us more details on this?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: Yes, I would love to. I think this is a very important initiative for the future. It is the ability to actually take the pulse of the planet; what is going on in all segments of our earth and connecting those things together so that we can first of all understand what's happening, and then we can use it economically. Some simple examples: start with the one you just mentioned: hazard warning and mitigation. We had no system in the Indian Ocean that could warn people about tsunamis, yet a simple system could be put into place that would not take much in terms of investment. It would take much international cooperation and goodwill to turn that into a reality, but in fact, it is doable, and we are working on it now as part of a Global Earth Observing System of Systems.

Now, this is an international effort; we have now 100 organizations, some 60-some nations that have agreed to form this coalition, along with almost 40 United Nations and intergovernmental organizations that are responsible, like the World Meteorological Organization, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the FAO, Food and Agricultural Organization. And I can go through a long list of alphabet soup from the U.N. -- but these organizations are responsible for either building information systems or using it. And now we have the nations together that provide the money and the support and the political will for this to happen, all in one organization. We've gone through a series of three Earth Observing summits with ministerial-level participation. The United States is a leader in this effort to set up a permanent secretariat in Geneva just last week. So we are on our way to building a Global Earth Observing System.

Mr. Lawrence: In both segments now, you've talked about the importance of international cooperation. What role is NOAA playing in sort of, you know, pulling all this together and making this international cooperation happen?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: NOAA is really a unique organization in terms of its ability to do things or to have influence. If you look at the rest of the world and look at how they are segmented, or stovepipes, as we call them -- inside their governments for these various issues that NOAA has together -- fisheries management, coastal zone management, weather forecasting, tides and currents, mapping and charting, ocean conditions -- all of those things are segmented in other parts of the world, in many cases. NOAA has it together in one organization, and it was really a stroke of genius that put it together, because it allows us to be a leader in the ability to bring and tie Earth Science fields together in a coordinated way.

So I think we have a very important leadership role in the country to act as a focus for bringing things together in Earth Science, and for the rest of the world. So I believe we have to operate on all levels, from local to state, regional, United States, and international, and I've asked my people, and they've taken the challenge to be active at all levels.

Mr. Rudnicki: So you just mentioned how NOAA has a lot of things pulled together. And with that, integration becomes a major theme within NOAA in itself. Can you tell us a little bit about the NOAA observing system architecture and how this will integrate observing systems?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: Yes. I found that when I arrived at NOAA, we were stovepiped to a certain extent, and that hampered our ability to be able to support this notion I mentioned of tying things together. So we created mechanisms to build ourselves together. The strategic plan is one, and the themes I mentioned is one. But we have an Office of Program Planning and Integration that helps with strategic planning, and does what I call matrix management across our lines. We also have a number of very dedicated program managers who are able to cut across the various areas and bring people together, and we build our budgets in a way that allow us to operate in an integrative fashion.

Mr. Lawrence: People who make decisions need useful information. Part of what will go on in a place where they do science is a lot of research. How are you transitioning the research into products and services for people to make decisions?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: And that is an important area for almost any organization, and it is one -- it's described in the areas we do -- there's a publication that was put out by the National Academy, it was called The Valley of Death: How Do You Get From Research to Operations? We have spent a great deal of time working on that issue. It was part of a research review team special effort that we made in the last couple of years -- and we had some new policies coming in to build from research to operations, very important. But I think first of all is to connect with customers; we really have to connect with the customers, the users -- I admit I'm using some private-sector language, but the ability to be able to meet the needs of the public is extremely important. So we go out and we talk to people.

We hold workshops; we hold public information sessions -- we just completed yesterday a national workshop for the Global Earth Observing System of Systems, bringing in all sectors of our economy and asking them what they felt was most important and how they wanted to relate to their government in doing that. So this issue of finding out what -- it's marketing in a private-sector term -- what are the products that are needed -- and then we try to work on how to build them and how to move them from one part of our organizations to another.

We have two ways of doing research. We have a separate research branch in NOAA that's dedicated to research, and it's a laboratory system -- a number of laboratories -- but it's applied; remember, it moves directly into real products. And then we also have smaller research elements that are attached to each one of our line offices, and those are near-term opportunities that continually work on improving products and our accuracy and our timeliness, and that's a continuous, kind of a rolling process. And then you have this longer-range research segment that brings in bigger issues and a little bit of the push-pull kind of thing, where people in the research area are pushing items into the operations section.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting way to get research to market.

What's NOAA's corporate identity, and how is it being developed? We'll ask its administrator, Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, to take us through this when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, U.S. Navy, retired; Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmospheres; and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

And joining us in our conversation is Dion Rudnicki.

Admiral, could you tell us how NOAA is developing a corporate identity?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: We look very strongly at trying to bring our lines together. We have five basic lines -- a weather line, an ocean line, a satellite and data line, fisheries line, and a research line -- very simply, they are sort of our, you know, car. If you have this is the General Motors example, we have all of these groups; we have to bring them together and make them work together. We have tried to rally around the name, NOAA -- National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. It's a powerful organization, as I've mentioned before, because it covers a broad variety of needs and interests for the country.

So bringing people together, both at headquarters and in our regions -- we've looked at where we have weather offices and where we have fisheries officers, where we have satellite and ocean operations going on, the research operations, too -- within each region, try to bring NOAA personnel together and discuss what goes on and relate to each other and build a NOAA identity so that when somebody calls, and they want some information, they can call NOAA, and they can get the answer from anyone; they don't have to call a specific branch of NOAA. Up until this point, that's been very hard to do. So this changing from a single-line structure, in what I would call a thousand mom-and-pop shops that we have in NOAA, to an organization that's coordinated and coherent and allows people to -- and you can go to our website, and I encourage people to do that -- we have a good website that gets you to each one of our areas -- and you can bore down and go into NOAA. So we're working hard on building the corporate identity.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you give us a sense of a snippet of the management challenges and how long you think it will take to do this?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: It's a difficult management challenge. I've mentioned that the organization is 30 years old. You say, well, that's a long time. It's really not a long time when you consider that it's composed of organizations, many of which are 200 years of old, like the Coast Survey, which is part of our organization; fisheries; which began in the middle 1800s; et cetera. So I think we have several generations -- and a generation to me is three our four years, because that's about how long people stay in jobs and move on -- to build this change in culture to think about NOAA as the parent organization, and what people do as part of NOAA, versus part of the weather versus part of the ocean prediction versus part of the fisheries.

We are working hard to provide that kind of encouragement for all of our employees. I believe most of them understand that as you look at the challenges that this country faces, that they individually, in their careers and in their organizational sense, are going to be much more successful if they are working with larger groups and larger issues and solving some of these significant societal problems and challenges that we have. That can only be done with this kind of a corporate matrix structure that we've built.

Mr. Rudnicki: Now, you touched upon earlier matrix management. Can you give us a few more details on how you're applying matrix management to your organization and how well and successful it's been thus far?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: It starts at the very top with the strategic plan. For instance, the four themes that I mentioned earlier; those are not just words on a piece of paper. Every dollar and every employee in NOAA is allocated to those four themes. So there's already a program structure, and there's a person in charge of each one. So if you want to talk to NOAA about climate, I will give you the name, and you can talk to that man -- and in some cases, woman -- who are in charge and must be responsible and are responsible today for doing the strategic planning and programming for the whole theme.

Now, inside of the theme, we have program managers. And I think you can easily see, if you look at ecosystems, that -- for instance, in ecosystem management, you need to understand what goes on in the ocean, so the National Ocean Service is involved -- that's one of our line structures. Certainly weather makes a big difference in terms of management of ecosystems, so the weather's involved. The fisheries are involved just because that's the living resource that we work with, and many biologists are in that area that deals with the effects of the other agencies -- other parts of our agency on their specific discipline.

So each one of those covers a wide variety of disciplines, and therefore brings in each line office. Now, inside of that, you have program managers. Some of those program managers only have single-line authority -- because they work in a specific area inside of weather. In other areas, we have programs -- we have at least 15 programs now that are -- have program managers that must manage people and resources in multiple line offices, and so that is the trick. And so we are working into the area where at the program manager level, we have integration across what used to be traditional stovepipes and single-line authority. So there's now dual-line authority in this system, and it's not without its challenges, but it is working.

Mr. Rudnicki: And bridging on that a bit -- I mean, the diversity of missions as well as the diversity of geography -- I mean, based upon NOAA's organization, they are located all across the U.S. Tell us a little bit about the challenges of this geographic dispersion and how that is impacting your approach towards management and the sort.

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: It brings up the issue of communication. As I mentioned, NOAA has roughly 13,000 people -- somewhat less than that, but that's a good number to go with -- and they're deployed over our entire nation from Caribou, Maine, to Key West, Florida, to Point Barrow in Alaska, to American Samoa, to the South Pole, measuring carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses. So we have offices and -- some relatively large, some small, all over the country. Our weather forecast offices, for instance -- almost everybody knows where their local weather forecast office is in our country; those are parts of NOAA. So you have this very dispersed organization, yet they need to work together, so communication becomes a huge issue with us. We're very much web-enabled. We use the web; we work e-mail; we work video conferences, teleconferences; we use every possible modern-day technology in order to be able to reach our folks and bring them together: webcasts, I go around and give town halls; we have our leadership to go around and talk to all of our people. It's a continual battle to try to ensure that the entire organization is focused and operating on one plane.

Mr. Lawrence: How is NOAA meeting the priorities through effective partnerships, and those partnerships including all of the government, academia, and industry?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: This is a critical part of success because, as I mentioned earlier, the societal challenges that we have cannot be solved by NOAA alone. They can't be solved by NOAA and NASA alone in many cases; you need to have from the federal side interagency groups. So we have been big proponents, strong proponents, and the people who work for me have been as well because they understand these issues. And so we have worked our way into and support very strongly interagency working groups that are sponsored by the White House, that are led by the White House, policy-directed by the White House, and that's been extremely important for collaborating at the national level.

We also, because many of our people work well with academia, we have ties to many of the academic institutions across the country. We have partnerships in research and in the application of science with a vast number of scientific colleges and graduate schools. We also look at local and regional managers. For instance, let me take a simple example, and that's hurricane forecasting and the emergency management associated with hurricane forecasting. Every one of our weather forecast offices is tied directly into the local, county, and city emergency management systems that are located in their area. The National Hurricane Center, when you see that on television, you see our people sitting right next to the national, the FEMA people, worrying and dealing with these issues in partnership.

So we've worked for a long time to bring on board with us and to be part of their organizations everyone that affects the products that we provide. A tornado warning is not any good unless someone takes action. A tsunami warning is not any good unless there's some way to get it to the people who need it. All of the things that we do are connected to other organizations, from science to emergency management to local planning to zoning to permitting for new activities for private industry to public development of our coasts. So partnerships are absolutely critical.

Mr. Lawrence: You've talked about working with a highly credentialed team, knowledge workers, if you will. Are there any special management challenges working with knowledge workers?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: There are special management challenges, and I think that that's an area that we in science agencies, or agencies such as NOAA, need to spend an extra amount of time on. We have very talented workers and very talented employees, many of which have advanced degrees, and they have been successful because of certain behaviors in their field.

Now, as you progress through the system in any organization, you need to develop other skills; you need to develop broadening skills; you need to develop management and leadership skills, and they need to progress on a continuum throughout your entire career. You know, before you go beyond your science bench, you then maybe have two or three scientists that work for you, and you work on an issue. That's a certain level of management and leadership that's needed, but then you move up and be a division director, and you've got 50 scientists and clerical personnel working for you -- gradually to the point where we need to train the next administrator of NOAA, and the next head of our weather service.

These are important management and leadership jobs for the country, and therefore, this career progression in a science agency requires people to think broadly and beyond the normal bounds in which they're educated and in which their initial training occurs. It's a difficult challenge.

Mr. Lawrence: Are there any challenges in attracting and retaining them?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: There are, because obviously, the private sector pays well, and as we all know, the tech bubble and the IPO bubble sort of burst, and so the employment opportunities in high-tech areas are not quite as prolific -- haven't proliferated as much in the last few years, so it's easier to hire computer specialists, programmers, and high-tech folks. But that's an area where we have had a difficult time, because we're competing with very high private pay scales. So it's gotten a little bit better, but we have to really work doubly hard in those areas to get the right kinds of people in, because we function on high tech.

Mr. Lawrence: Those are interesting management challenges.

What does the future hold for NOAA? We'll ask its administrator, Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, for his perspective when The Business of Government Hour returns.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, U.S. Navy, retired; Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere; and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

And joining us in our conversation is Dion Rudnicki.

Admiral, the U.S. Ocean Commission released a report, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century, in September of 2004. The Bush Administration answered that report in December of 2004 with what is now known as the U.S. Ocean Action Plan. What's the federal action plan, and what does it mean for NOAA?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: It's an extremely important document, and it hasn't received the type of publicity it should get, but remember, the last time we had a commission such as this, it actually came up with the idea of building a NOAA. And so I think when people look at what NOAA has done over the last 30 years, they can see the value of these commissions. So this response to the second commission report I think will be very important for the next 30 years that we're looking at in terms of ocean management, ocean science, and our ability to use the oceans to improve our standard of living and our environment.

This Ocean Action Plan really has a number of elements to it, but I want to mention probably the most significant -- and something that probably makes people's eyes glaze over -- but it's important because it sets up for the first time an ocean policy governance system in the United States. Up until this point, ocean matters have been pigeonholed throughout a number of agencies in our government -- NASA, NOAA, Navy, NSF, Energy, Agriculture -- all these areas -- Interior -- have some legislation; they have some empowerment to work on areas that either affect or are a part of our oceans. This plan sets up a Cabinet-level body, called the Committee on Ocean Policy, working for an advisor who reports directly to the President, such as Condi Rice used to be the National Security Advisor, worked for the President. We now have Jim Connaughton, who is the head of our environmental policy section in the government, a direct advisor of the President, who is in charge of a Cabinet-level body to ensure that our ocean policies and our ocean programs are built in a consistent way, and that there is a highest-level body that gets direct access to the President. That cannot be underestimated in our ability to affect the future.

Mr. Lawrence: What might be such an impact that somebody might see as a result of this governance? I understand the problem -- it seems pretty clear as you describe it now -- having this, what would be different?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: It's hard to say what will be different exactly, but you will see more coherent policies. We have a number of laws today that govern how we deal with endangered species, deal with the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and marine mammal protection; and deal with fishing; they deal with uses of the outer continental shelf; they cross sometimes state borders and federal borders in the ocean. That series of laws that we have set up have been set up by individual committees in Congress and individual interest groups. They are, in many cases -- I won't say contradictory, but they do have issues of overlap and invasion of one's territory, you might say.

You're going to see a way now for the federal government and Congress to be able to rationalize that series of laws that we work under in managing our oceans, and over the next decade or so, I believe we'll be able to rationalize them and build a much better system for ensuring the sustainable development and usage of our ocean resources.

Mr. Rudnicki: So, Admiral, how do you envision NOAA in the next five to ten years?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: That's a good question. I want to turn that around and say, what you envision at NOAA is not what our organization is, but what do we want from the country? Our vision is that we want to have a nation that is more environmentally literate when it comes to our oceans and atmosphere. And so we have a population in the United States that understands the impact of what goes on in the environment around them, and that they use that information to make the best social, economic, and environmental decisions.

So what NOAA becomes in the next five, ten years depends on being able to carry out that kind of a vision. And that's something that all of our employees feel very strongly about. It's something that originated in our workshops and is working its way through our system at this point. So I see NOAA becoming more connected with the public; I see it becoming more integrated and more able to work on these large-scale challenges that are not only national but international.

Mr. Rudnicki: So relative to the impact of being able to do that over the next five to ten years, how do you foresee the challenges, and overcoming the challenges to accomplish that?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: I think it's going to take some very sort of fundamental work. First of all, education: we have to deal with educating our own workforce, and looking at the education of the country and outreach. So K through 12 education is very important, college education, graduate education, and then continuing outreach to the public. So it's a very important component of what we do is to ensure that people understand the value of it and understand what it means to them personally. Education is extremely important, so we're going to have to educate; we're going to have to recruit, and then we're going to have to train people internally inside of NOAA to build the skills that are needed to mount large-scale problem-solving operations. It doesn't happen because you want to do it, it happens because you plan and you educate and you train and you measure what you do at the end. And that's what we'll be doing.

Mr. Lawrence: Regardless of the sector you've been in your career -- public, private, or academic -- you've been a public servant of some kind or another, and so I'm curious, reflecting on this long career, what advice you'd give to someone interested in a career in public service, perhaps even focusing in on science?

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: When I'm talking to college audiences and younger folks, I always ask people to consider public service as a career field. I think there are a great many benefits to it. The satisfaction of being able to deal with some of these larger issues; the ability to serve one's fellow man -- fellow human beings, brings a great deal of sense of personal satisfaction and personal empowerment. And so while the chances for large monetary rewards are small, the chances for great psychic rewards are unlimited in public service.

And so I encourage people to look at it, and I think there are many opportunities in science as well. Across the whole set of agencies that we have, every one of them has a research branch or research laboratories that are working on the most urgent national problems that we have today, and this is an opportunity to get into well-equipped laboratories with Nobel Prize winners and other very dedicated people who spend their lives looking at advancing our knowledge for building a better future. That kind of satisfaction can only come from the public service kind of mentality, and I encourage people to look at it as a viable way to go.

Mr. Lawrence: Admiral, that'll have to be our last question. Dion and I want to thank us for squeezing us in your very busy schedule and joining us this morning.

Vice Adm. Lautenbacher: Paul and Dion, I'm very, very pleased to be here. Thank you. I encourage people to go to our website if you haven't been there already: www.noaa.gov. And many of the things I've talked about today can be found, just bearing into our website; you'll find it fascinating.

Thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you.

Mr. Rudnicki: Thank you, Admiral.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, U.S. Navy, retired; the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere; and Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and research and get a copy of the transcript of today's conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

For The Business of Government Radio Hour, I'm Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Conrad Lautenbacher interview
10/22/2005
"NOAA is a unique organization in terms of its ability to influence. NOAA has all Earth Science fields together in one organization. That gives us an important leadership role of further bringing those fields together in the U.S. and globally."

Broadcast Schedule

Federal News Radio 1500-AM
  • Mondays at 11 a.m. Fridays at 1 p.m. (Wednesdays at 12 p.m. as
  • available.)

Our radio interviews can be played on your computer or downloaded.

 

Subscribe to our program

via iTunes.

 

Transcripts are also available.

 

Your host

Michael Keegan
IBM Center for The Business of Government
Leadership Fellow & Host, The Business of Government Hour

Browse Episodes

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Recent Episodes

10/16/2017
Bryan Rice
Department of the Interior
Director of the Office of Wildland Fire
10/09/2017
Bob Rosen
Author of Grounded: How Leaders Stay Rooted in an Uncertain World
10/02/2017
Baligh Yehia
Department of Veterans Affairs
Former Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Community Care
09/25/2017
Bill Marion
Air Force
Information Dominance & Deputy Chief Information Officer
09/18/2017
Commander Eric Popiel
U.S. Coast Guard
Program Manager for the Evergreen Program