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.

Dr. Nat Heiner interview

Friday, January 25th, 2002 - 20:00
Dr. Nat Heiner
Radio show date: 
Sat, 01/26/2002
Intro text: 


Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Friday, November 30, 2001

MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers and to co-chair for The Endowment for The Business of Government. We created the Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches into improving government effectiveness. Find out more about the Endowment by visiting us of the web at

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation today is with Dr. Nat Heiner, chief knowledge office and deputy chief information officer of the U.S. Coast Guard. Welcome Nat.3

DR. HEINER: Thanks for having me. Good to be here.

MR. LAWRENCE: Joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Dave Abel. Good morning, Dave.

MR. ABEL: Good morning.

MR. LAWRENCE: Nat, perhaps we could start by finding out more about the Coast Guard. Could you describe its missions and its activities for our listeners?

DR. HEINER: Yes. First of all, we're the nation's smallest armed service. We have roughly 36,000 active-duty men and women in uniform. We're concerned generally with the maritime domain from inland waterways, through costal waters, to deep water over the horizon at many foreign ports, believe it or not, and even Antarctica, we support missions there.

Everybody knows us as the wet version of 911. We do search and rescue on the water, search and rescue inland over land when it gets flooded, but we have so many other missions. I'm going to just sort of walk through them pretty quickly.

We break ice to get oil delivered. We help protect the water environment in thousands of places from nearly dry inland areas, to deep-water fisheries. We stop drugs from coming into the country over water routes. We enforce the maritime parts of immigration law. We enforce international treaties protecting the environment, fisheries, and marine life.

We monitor icebergs. Who would think that the Coast Guard is looking at icebergs? We drop color bombs on them to mark them for passing ships and for aircraft. And we provide an international ice warning system.

We make sure that the thousands of ships arriving in the U.S. and, by the way, 95 percent of the nation's economy comes over water, something that needs to be appreciated when you think about what we're up to here. We make sure those ships are safe for the crew on the ships, for the cargo, for the ports, and for the environment those ships are moving through. We're the experts on responding to and controlling oil and chemical spills.

Lastly, and definitely not the least, we work closely with the other armed services as well as the intelligence communities and other agencies such as Customs, the FBI, the INS, to secure the safety of this country's maritime domain. In this particular period we're living in, that's certainly a pretty important mission that most people are coming to appreciate.

We have all of 95,000 miles of coastline to defend and monitor. So the Coast Guard is all over the place and a lot bigger than most people realize. I should just put a plug in, if anybody wants to check it out a little bit more, check out the website, and the whole array of what we're doing nowadays is up there for people to look at.

MR. ABEL: One thing that many of the listeners may not be aware of is that sometimes the Coast Guard is under the Department of Transportation, other times it's under the Department of Defense. What affects that change, and with homeland security a rising concern, what impact will that have under what organization administratively the Coast Guard falls?

DR. HEINER: I'll answer the questions in order. First of all, there is a well-understood and well-regulated capability for the Coast Guard to be shifted from the Department of Transportation into the Department of the Navy. That would be at the explicit executive order of the President. The circumstances under which that is envisioned as happening are full-blown warfare.

It hasn't happened, and as far as I have heard there is no discussion about that. I think the American public is as aware of developments in that area as any of us in the Coast Guard are.

As for the homeland security agency, there is certainly a lot of discussion about the placement of the Coast Guard in such an agency. There has been a lot of academic discussion about this well before 9-11, years before it, actually. Various committees in Congress have looked at this, commissions commissioned by Congress have looked at it.

The Coast Guard's position generally on this is that we know how to work where we're working very well. The Department of Transportation is a very natural place for the Coast Guard to reside. At the same time, the Coast Guard in its 211-year history, I think it's 211 years now we've been in existence, we've adapted to an awful lot of different environments organizationally in order to get our mission done.

We once were in the Department of the Treasury. We once patrolled beaches on horseback. It's a shifting mission mix that we have, and if the nation sees fit to place us in another place, I see no reason why the Coast Guard would not salute and move out on that. But I think it's important to understand we are where we stand, and we're ready basically to do the job no matter where we're placed inside the government. It's really a bigger issue than the Coast Guard, and so anybody from within the Coast Guard that tries to tell you that the Coast Guard belongs here or there is probably talking above their pay grade.

MR. LAWRENCE: What's your role as the chief knowledge officer?

DR. HEINER: The chief knowledge officer is a new thing for the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has been sort of out front in the federal arena and pushing for this kind of a function to be established in the organization.

The basic idea is that the knowledge officer is an overlay to the CIO function. The CIO, the chief information officer, is a fairly well-known function nowadays concerned with information systems and managing them efficiently, managing the investments in IT, managing the policy and the standards, and coordinating it throughout the entire enterprise's architecture.

The knowledge officer is concerned with all of that as an enabling tool, if you will, for helping people in a large organization learn what they need to know to get their job done. In a sense, you could just say it's just training in the old-fashioned sense, but it's a lot more complicated than that.

We've come to realize that what our people need to know is a lot harder to get your hands around than we used to think it was. How they learn what they need to know is a lot more complicated than we thought it was, and how from an organizational point of view our people forget what they ought to know is also an important thing that we tend to lose sight of.

So a knowledge officer is working across human resources, the training organization, the IT organization, acquisition, and then operations, to establish communities that act as functional units. I'm not actually articulating this right; to establish communities that are natural communities that for understandable reasons haven't yet formed perhaps because they're isolated in different parts of the country the way the Coast Guard is distributed around the country; how are people who are doing similar things but in small boat stations to get together nowadays.

They can't get on the horn, they can't travel, and yet they know things that each other could benefit from greatly. So the knowledge officer has a fascinating challenge that runs on the organizational level, on the technical level, on the human resources level, and it's all about pulling the organization together with respect to getting control of what its people know and making sure that the right people know what they need to know.

MR. ABEL: Let's spend a little bit of time talking about your career. Tell us a little bit about what you did prior to joining the Coast Guard.

DR. HEINER: I'll actually start at the very beginning and work my way towards the present then, at least the career beginnings.

I thought I was going to go off and teach mathematical logic and linguistics, that's what my training was in, and in the process did things like go off to Europe and study, and then I was in the Amazon jungle for nearly 2 years doing some linguistic work, and found myself back in the United States preparing a dissertation to take me into the world of academia when I found that there was this tremendous demand for people in this new software industry and I got drafted in effect. I didn't seek it, it just sort of happened to me just as it happened to an awful of people, and I found myself growing with this same burgeoning information technology industry that we've all come to love and hate all at once.

I worked with the federal government almost all the time because most of my work was here in Washington. I actually established my own company for a while and discovered that I'm probably not a good CEO. Although people thought I did a reasonably good job at it, I didn't. I wound up moving over to Federal Data Corporation where I took the lead in managing their technical operations as I matured with the company, and also helped position Federal Data for acquisition and I found myself then working for Northrop Grumman.

I suppose at a certain point I decided that I wanted to look at public service, and specifically I wanted to look for an organization that had a clearly defined mission. After over 20 years of doing this in the private sector, I came to an odd and kind of surprising, at least to me, conclusion that most -- if you'd asked me at any given point what the mission I was involved with was, I would have said of course I have a mission here, my mission is that of social security of the Veterans Administration or the United States Navy, we are building a secure telecommunications system for Navy logistics.

But in the end, my mission was the mission of the company, and the mission of a company like Northrop Grumman or like Federal Data before it is indeed the bottom line, and it's a no fooling bottom line mission. So at a certain point I decided that I wanted to shift and look at an organization such as the Coast Guard whose mission poses a very, very different set of goals, but still the management challenges and the technical challenges are all there right there in the mix.

MR. LAWRENCE: That's a good stopping point. It's time for a break. Come back with us as we continue our conversation with Nat Heiner of the Coast Guard. We'll ask him to tell us more about knowledge management when The Business of Government Hour continues. (Intermission)

MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's conversation is with Dr. Nat Heiner, chief knowledge officer and deputy chief information officer of the U.S. Coast Guard. Joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Dave Abel.

Nat, in the last segment you described your career, and I couldn't help but think you've been around a lot of people and a lot of leaders. I was wondering what qualities have you observed as key characteristics of good leadership?

DR. HEINER: That's a great question. I tend to think of leaders at least in the business world that I've known as respected as sort of embodying a bunch of little paradoxes, almost like two-sided coins where the coin has got the two sides of the paradox.

People like this need to be decisive, and at the same time they have to be thoughtful. Those two things tend to go against each other. They have to be intelligent, but they also have to be willing to ask apparently stupid questions. They have to be empathetic, and at the same time they have to be aggressive.

They have to have a lot of confidence, and at the same time a lot of humility. They have to know how to listen really carefully, and yet they have to also be an articulate speaker and ready to jump right in and go.

They have to have experience, but they can't be so pushed down by the experience that they're not willing to take risks anymore. And they always have to have a clear vision of where they want to go, and at the same time they have to have deep respect for the unknown. It's just a couple other things that come to mind there.

MR. ABEL: You described earlier what your role is as chief knowledge officer. Can you tell us a little bit about the benefits of knowledge management and maybe an example or two of where you think that it's worked particularly well?

DR. HEINER: Sure. That's also a good question, Dave. I think that one of my favorite examples of a real working case of knowledge management predates all the talk and thought about knowledge management as an industry and an area of endeavor, and it really wraps it up beautifully.

Has either of you heard about the so-called black teams at IBM back in the sixties? This was back in the days when coding was really a very difficult thing, and it's not unfair to say that there was a bugging phase that was followed by the debugging phase. In any case, coding teams were true teams back then that operated with a certain part of the mainframe code and so on. What IBM's management detected as a pattern problem was that the code that was rolling out into production running on the mainframes was having enough flaws in it that the customers were getting upset. It was really screwing them up. We all sort of take this for granted I'm' afraid to say nowadays, but back then that was something you couldn't take for granted, especially in financial systems.

What happened was, and I don't know quite exactly what the provenance of it was, but this infamous black team came up, and what it was was a very small team of some of the best technical coders who had a known propensity throughout the organization for being able to break code. They put these folks together on a small team and they would go in and do a code walk-through, it sounds so boring this stuff, but they would actually rip a programming team's code to shreds and in so doing of course they would make it better. They would find the flaws in it.

Well, they became pretty famous throughout IBM as a group that you really didn't want to see walking through the door.

MR. ABEL: You didn't want to see the black team coming in your door.

DR. HEINER: But look at what you have going on there, and they managed that process. They identified that as a really great thing, and the black team wound up being something that gained its own kind of notoriety, everybody kind of wanted to be on there, but they didn't want them around and they hated them, but they loved them. They key thing is they all respected each other, and it was also these were real teams.

The interesting thing that was going on there from a knowledge management point of view and why I consider that a great example of managing knowledge is you have people who know how to do a certain thing that formed into a natural community. We really don't know quite how it happened, I'm sure someone at IBM back then knew, and in the lore today I haven't heard any accurate description of it. So this team came together, and it wound up cross-fertilizing with other communities.

The result of that was that each of them wound up learning from the other one. They were a kind of collision of communities, but also a very fertile collision of communities. There was a lot of high spirit that went with this. The tensions wound up binding them together, at the same time identifying them in their different roles. It's a great example of how small teams can interact and form into communities and how the network of those communities can make an entire organization a lot stronger and in itself be a form of communication that we don't normally think of as a form of communication.

That's managing what your people know. That's finding the secret trick to how they learn and how they learn best, and making sure they don't forget. It involves training, but there was no training program there. It was built into the fabric of how they got things done.

And it was all focused on the mission of producing this kind of code. So it did one of the most important things in any business process, which is supporting the main mission. That's a kind of the left field example of managing knowledge, knowledge management, and you can see the benefit.

How you translate that into today's terms, you're not going to just run around and say we'll do a black team at the Coast Guard, but that's the same idea. You want to find the natural small communities that have a natural focus on one part of meeting our mission.

Mr. Reeve: The website, by the way, is very easy to navigate. It's at

MR. LAWRENCE: Before I make the leap to ask about some of the technology programs that are going on at the Coast Guard, I want to follow-up on that question because it was interesting to hear you talk about it, and yet it was a people and a process answer rather than a technology answer, and yet I think when people think about knowledge management now they have a technology vision or perception and, indeed, you're the deputy chief information officer which is a technology kind of thing. So I'm wondering where that link is and how we move that answer from I guess the sixties up into the nineties and why we've come to think about that that way.

DR. HEINER: I'm glad you captured all that. The linkage is that nothing has changed, in a way. You still have a technical problem to solve and you have technology as an enabler. It will always be that. Technology should not be the object of what you're trying to do, it should just be a tool. It should help make your job go faster and easier, and if you set up your technologies to do anything but that, you're losing sight of what they're really there for. That's a mistake I think we've been making for a long time, we don't mean to make it, but it just happens to us. Technology is fun for a lot of people and so they wind up losing their focus on what the mission is and focusing on the fun technology.

The business of managing how people learn what they need to learn which is knowledge management is a very complicated task. Nowadays given the incredible pile of information that we need to keep track of to get our jobs done, in the context of homeland security, that's a no fooling mission nowadays, technology is a very natural enabler. You've got to keep your eye on that prize and make sure that you use it to support all of the things that you need to do to get people the information they need to know.

So knowledge management in an operational context for one of our area commanders or district commanders would be the rapid and effective assembly of information that gives them an operational picture of all the assets and components in their immediate maritime domain so that they can assess what they're up against and make decisions quickly. That's not an easy problem to solve. That involves people, but it also involves an awful lot of technology and coordination of different technologies.

MR. LAWRENCE: Following-up on that, could you describe the eCoast Guard program for our listeners?

DR. HEINER: Sure. The eCoast Guard is something that's been going on at least as long as e-government. I think it's a testimony to the leadership of the Coast Guard, their vision of how technology really does need to link to the way the Coast Guard gets its business done and how technology should be viewed as an enabler and not as some sort of objective in itself.

Another component to the eCoast Guard vision is a culture of innovation. Coasties have for decades always been innovators out of necessity usually because we're so resource constrained and necessity being the mother of innovation, that's a world we're used to.

ECoast Guard is an attempt to establish a culture of innovation and technology where no matter where you are in the Coast Guard, you understand that what you're doing probably has a technical component. If you're sitting in something as noisy and mechanical and apparently untechnical as a helicopter up in the air, you still are utterly dependent on the information flowing through the wires in that aircraft. There's a whole nexus of technologies that are being brought to bear to get you the information in the cockpit that you need to get your job done.

That carries through to people who are bending metal or painting or shaping hulls, or designing the hulls. We have come to understand that technology is really the lifeblood of the Coast Guard, and eCoast Guard is an attempt by leadership to make sure that everybody is signed up and that they understand this.

We've made some mistakes along the way, too, and I think we've learned from those. Those mistakes I don't believe at all discredit the eCoast Guard vision or where we're trying to get to, but they are points that we need to make sure everybody understands we have recognized and have learned from.

MR. LAWRENCE: That's a good stopping point. It's time for another break. Return after the break as we continue our discussion with Nat Heiner of the Coast Guard. We'll ask him how the Coast Guard manages a diverse set of stakeholders. This is The Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. In today's conversations with Doctor Nat Heiner, Chief Knowledge Officer and Deputy Chief Information Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard. Also joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Dave Abel.

Well, Nat, you recently wrote in an article that the Coast Guard senior leadership wants to build innovation into the way of doing business. How does the Coast Guard cultivate a culture of innovation?

DR. HEINER: As I said before, innovation is sort of built into the Coast Guard and has been for decades, because we've had to do so much with so little. Our commandant has made a joke that we've gotten so used to doing less with more that pretty soon we're going to be doing everything with nothing, and that's not true anymore, we really don't believe that, but it was looking pretty bleak there for a while for us.

Back to the culture of innovation, generally the culture is already there, it's pre-established in the kind of "can do" attitude that most coastees have. The motto semper paratus means always ready. And if you're going to be always ready to tackle a Coast Guard mission, you had better be innovative, because you're not always going to have the tools you need to get that job done right then and there. You're going to have to cook something up.

Now, specifically though, from a management point of view, you've got to do your role on the leadership side to help these coastees out and make the road a little easier for them. So what do you do?

First of all, you set up things like an innovation counsel, which is not an easy thing to do. You can set up an innovation counsel but that doesn't just make it so by virtue of having created this entity.

But what it's intended to do is to reach out and identify smalltime, if you will, innovators in the periphery of the Coast Guard, somebody who's working on a really creative project on his own or her own without any natural program sponsor, identify that rascal, it might be some little PDA program that has the potential to go Coast Guard-wide and save just tons of time and money. Identify that thing, get it some seed money, move it out, and then bring it on, bridge it back to the headquarters and big Coast Guard so that we can get it properly funded and set up. Now, that's an ongoing kind of partnership we have with our own people. We have an internal innovation expo as part of that, where we bring the people, these innovators, the smaller innovators from around the Coast Guard into a big hall at the Coast Guard academy or at our R&D Center or maybe even at headquarters, and we get them in the room together, throw them some red meat and say talk to each other. And of course, we go in and look and see what happens, too.

It's been a very, very interesting experience doing that and it's been fun. We've gotten a lot of mileage out of that. The other side of it is, we want to be setting up partnerships with industry. We want to set up industry days or industry expos, where we bring the industry in for the same purpose.

What have you folks got going? Here's what we do, and prior to it, letting them know, you know, the kinds of things generally we're interested in, getting the industry folks together to see what the best and brightest are doing in the private sector to see what the art of the possible is. That's a culture of innovation.

MR. LAWRENCE: On the topic of innovation, we recently spoke to Admiral Stillman on the program about the Coast Guard's deepwater program. We know that you've been involved in the recapitalization effort, as well. Can you tell us a little bit about the program and perhaps some examples of how technologies might help to improve the Coast Guard's performance through deepwater?

DR. HEINER: Deepwater, first of all, has been characterized, and I think in many ways rightly, as the Coast Guard's future. It is the major part of our deep- water fleet that is so important to how we execute so many of our missions.

We have one of the oldest fleets in the world, and yet due to our capacity to innovate, we keep it afloat instead of having just renewed it by now. So this is a very, very important program for the Coast Guard.

As for how technologies and I should contrast this program with some of the other programs. The deepwater assets go from some sort of off shore into the deep water, hence the name, and they include our helicopters, they include our large ships, our medium endurance cutters.

Now, that fleet that will be recapitalized has to talk to our shore-side, if you call it the 911, maritime 911 systems. That is a separate set of assets and, indeed, you're talking about an acquisition here that's a separate acquisition. Those are very important components of how the Coast Guard gets its mission done. We have other parts of our infrastructure, our technical infrastructure, involved in the inland waterways, as well, which is a wholly different set of technical challenges and missions, as well.

We cannot, especially now with our shifting mission mix, we cannot look at this array of missions that we do without looking at how we are going to make sure they are stitched together through the technologies that are enabling them.

A large capital cutter that goes out into deep water had better be able to carry the kinds of technologies that permit us to interoperate in joint operations with military services. And these are not necessarily explicit requirements that are built into the operational requirements definition for this acquisition. I don't want to characterize this that way.

These are really higher order missions for the Coast Guard. Our entire system has to operate as a system of systems. And so from the deep water to the shallow water, we are going to do everything we can to make sure that we are using the technologies that are coming out on these latest generation platforms in a way that leverages the technology, takes the slow work, the busy work, the dreary work off the shoulders of the people doing the work on board the ships and in the aircraft and lets the technology do what it's best at doing. So technology is absolutely a critical component to all of these systems that we are deploying for the 21st century.

MR. LAWRENCE: In the last segment when we were talking about E-Coast Guard, you teased us by hinting about some of the lessons learned that you had acquired in that process. Could you tell us about those lessons learned?

DR. HEINER: We, like any large enterprise organization, have creative people who are doing great work in certain areas and that work must naturally lens itself to a certain kind of infrastructure. So imagine, if you will, not so far from the truth really, a scenario in which we have a creative bunch of people that field an application over a web interface.

That web interface gets delivered throughout the Coast Guard, and people look at it and say, this is pretty good, I would love to be able to do this this way, I can update resumes, I can communicate, I can do all sorts of things that I used to have to do on paper using this. Great idea, was working fine, with one small hitch. We hadn't built all of the infrastructure necessary to carry that traffic in our enterprise. A small matter, which is really not so small, of our capital cutters floating around on long underway tours that do not have this kind of capability, this kind of connectivity to support their access to that application.

So some of the most important part of our Coast Guard was left behind as we deployed some of the things that were, you know, good examples of what E-Coast Guard would look like. We have small boat stations that are distributed throughout the country that don't have the kind of high speed land connectivity, you know, network connectivity that most people are used to in their offices. These poor folks are out there in pretty remote areas and they have to use telephone dial-up, it's slow.

So they, too, are kind of left behind, and quite frankly, they resent it, and rightly so. Well, the Coast Guard leadership has understood this loud and clear and we're taking that for action. The basic lesson learned there is, before you deploy an application throughout your enterprise, make sure that the highway is properly paved to get it out there. We thought we had that taken care of, but we were wrong. Lesson learned.

MR. LAWRENCE: We talked previously about the complex mission of the Coast Guard and even the more complex mission of those who are implementing technology within the Coast Guard. Who do you consider to be the stakeholders of information technology within the organization?

DR. HEINER: Well, I think everybody in the Coast Guard is a stakeholder. A lot of people don't think of themselves necessarily as stakeholders, but absolutely everybody, just the way I said before, because technology is so important to what we do in almost every aspect of executing our missions, all of the people involved, from the people who are actually at the point of the spear to the people who are doing the planning, have a major stake in the success of our implementing these technologies, these many different technologies that we are bringing to bear to get our mission done.

There's another interesting component in this and that is that the American people are stakeholders in this, too. We have a very important maritime security mission now, much more important than any of us imagined or hoped it would ever be and that makes the American public a stakeholder in a way that we really hadn't appreciated before.

The Coast Guard has always thought of itself as a humanitarian and service oriented organization. But now more than ever, that has become clear. So if we do a bad job at bringing technology to bear to get the security mission done, we are going to be falling down very badly in a major area of service to the American public. So we have a variety of stakeholders there.

And then I can give you the standard dreary answer which is, we have internal stakeholders, which are our maritime community, our operational community, our workforce community, the IT community, there are C4ISR specialists, I'll unpack that for you, command, control, commuters, communications, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, all those things get collapsed into that acronym, C4ISR. Military folks are used to this, so I apologize to the rest of you.

In any case, these are all stakeholders that are, you know, have a very important interest in the success with which we deploy technology and apply it to get our mission done.

MR. LAWRENCE: It's time for a break. Come back with us as we continue our discussion with Nat Heiner of the Coast Guard. In the last segment, we'll ask him to share his vision of the future of the Coast Guard with us. This is The Business of Government Hour. (Intermission)

MR. LAWRENCE: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. And today's conversation is with Doctor Nat Heiner, Chief Knowledge Officer and Deputy Chief Information Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard. Joining us in our conversation is another PWC partner, Dave Abel.

MR. ABEL: When we left off on the last segment, we were talking a bit about stakeholders, and it's probably not fair to talk about the military agencies as being stakeholders as much as they are business partners for you. What are the challenges in managing the cooperative effort? How do you work together with the military services?

DR. HEINER: First of all, I do have to say that they are stakeholders, especially the Navy would consider themselves a stakeholder. One of the things that the Coast Guard does very, very well, better than anyone, is, we understand force protection in shallow water. It sounds like a technical kind of non-phrase.

But if you are running an aircraft carrier or other major asset into waters of which you're uncertain, you want the Coast Guard there. So you will find, if you look carefully, that the Coast Guard isn't just in U.S. waters, we work with the Navy in all sorts of places around the globe to help the Navy with coastal force protection, not a small issue. So the Navy considers the Coast Guard an absolutely critical partner in protecting their force.

In that sense also, we work jointly with a variety of military services in the areas of law enforcement, counter drug, have done this for a long time now, and to do everything we can to get out in front of the problems that we are trying not to have come true, be it a mass wave of illegal immigration, be it a fast boat carrying an ungodly amount of cocaine into this country, or now be it the terrorists trying to do terrible damage upon one part or other of this country's coastal assets.

These are very serious missions that have existed and now have even more focus and intensity and importance than they did before. In that sense, we're all stakeholders again. And managing this is an interesting challenge. But the good news there is that we don't have people on any part of any military service that I've been able to detect that aren't interested in actively overcoming whatever obstacles that we have.

I'll give you an example of one quick obstacle that a lot of people now know about. It's an obstacle that's built into the fabric of regulation and law and somewhat mission, but not into the willingness of people to overcome it, and that is, in the intelligence community, you have source information about assets, people events, and so on; in the enforcement community, you have information that looks exactly like that.

But how you use that information and who gets to see it and who needs to know it is a very different thing. And if you share it in a certain way, here's the knowledge officer talking, if you share it in a certain way, you could prejudice the prosecution on the enforcement side, or you could wind up getting an intelligence source killed on the other side.

So how you move this kind of information back and forth across the boundaries of your organizations is a really fascinating challenge. And a lot of folks are now hard at work with exactly the right intent at fixing that problem in this country.

That's an example of the kinds of coordination that we do all the time with the other armed services. We're at the Pentagon all the time and we have Navy liaisons here all the time, Office of Naval Intelligence, we're a major component of their operations. Coast Guard is an armed service and in that sense, we have a very strong relationship with our sister services.

MR. LAWRENCE: Are there new technologies on the horizon that will enable the Coast Guard to complete its mission differently or more effectively?

DR. HEINER: Absolutely, yes. And I'm not the one to say what those technologies are going to be, but I can give you some examples of things that are just fun and fascinating and some of us know about them, some of us don't.

You say over the horizon, here's one that's not over the horizon or under it, it's above it. We have a communications infrastructure in the Coast Guard that is hideously expensive, as does most of the world, that is to say we expend a tremendous amount of energy heaving satellites into orbit to serve secure and unsecured communications.

We have various radio frequencies that we use to carry traffic across the surface, as well, and then we bounce it off of satellites. We all know how all this infrastructure works. We have towers that we have to build at great cost and maintain at great cost that carry these signals on the surface. This is an infrastructure that most people sort of are dimly aware of. But those of us who have to pay for it are hideously and painfully aware of it. Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a way, some sort of magical technology, to cut the costs of all that and maybe make it not necessary anymore to build towers? Well, there are interesting, fun people out there thinking in aggressive, strange ways, trying to find ways to do that. One of those technologies, and I'm not saying this is a solution, but it holds the promise. You look at it maybe 5, 10, 15 years from now, maybe they can get this developed to the point where we don't have to build towers anymore and we don't even have to put up satellites.

The name of the organization? Well, I don't even have to name the organization. NASA is sponsoring this with the Air Force. It's an aircraft that is unmanned, it goes up to 80,000 feet, above the weather, it enters into a very tight spiral and acts as if it were a satellite, a stationary satellite. You can bounce radio traffic off of it. It can act as a 400 square mile coverage network of antennas.

Now, if you can find a way to manufacture that thing and make it stable and reliable, you have lost the necessity to heave satellites into orbit because this thing just takes off from the deck. You can run another one up there to replace it if an engine starts to go bad. It has a bunch of engines in it in its current iteration. So this is fun stuff. You look at this and you think, wow, we could be doing that 20 years from now, we could get rid of the towers and all that expense, and it would be solar powered, too, just great stuff.

Other things, wireless technologies, right now they're driving us crazy in the security environment. But wireless technologies are a much nearer term technology that I think holds great promise for Coast Guard 911 and for the rest of the world, too.

So technologies that carry information, both of those are examples of technologies that carry information. Great stuff. And I see that anytime a new technology comes out that can do that, that it makes it happen faster, cheaper, or better, we're going to be all over it, and all of us should be excited about that.

MR. LAWRENCE: That's a great vision of the future. On the other side of that is the people that are going to need to be able to support the Coast Guard in the future. What advice do you have for a young person who's interested in a career in the Coast Guard?

DR. HEINER: Come join us. It's a great organization. It's the best decision I've ever made in my life, except - well, she's probably going to hear this broadcast so I have to say outside from marrying my wife which is the best decision. But in any case, it's a wonderful organization. If you're a young person and looking at the Coast Guard, and again, I encourage you to go look at the website,, preceded by all the other stuff you're used to, http dub dub dub and so on,, come look us over. It's a site that changes all the time.

We do so many different things. If you're interested in anything that's wet, if you're interested in helping people, if you're interested in law enforcement, if you're interested in joining the country's effort at combating terrorism, Coast Guard is just a great place to be.

What kind of people do we have in the Coast Guard? Just about every kind of person that we have in the country. We have very, very significant internal objectives for increasing the diversity in the Coast Guard. We value a diverse work force in all parts of the Coast Guard. Women play a very important role. My boss, for example, flew C-130's, flew the Falcon jet, flew helicopters, carried the football for President Reagan for three years. The Coast Guard values diversity, and I think that if you're a young person, it's a great place to look at for a career. I don't know any of my peers in the flag or in the SCS Corp. that don't feel very honored to be part of that mission, and I'm grateful to have had such a long career in this organization.

MR. LAWRENCE: What's the vision for the Coast Guard over the next 10 years?

DR. HEINER: Well, the vision is something that's been clearly articulated, both in conjunction with the Department of Transportation and by our own commandant. We have a Coast Guard 20/20 vision, which depicts a Coast Guard that understands how to use these technologies in a way that makes them mostly invisible.

People like CKO's and so on shouldn't be really necessary anymore, because people use technology the way we use telephones today. Back in the days of "Ernestine," telephones were an obstacle and it didn't work all the time, and so you knew that the telephone was a technology that needed, you know, to be managed.

But back in those days, you turn the faucet on and the water flowed and you knew that, you took it for granted, it was a utility; electricity flowed, you knew that. Nowadays, we take the telephones for granted, too. And one of the goals for the Coast Guard is that this set of obstacles that we're all wrestling with in the world of technology is going to be like that, it's going to be something that everyone takes for granted, and we're down to our main mission, working with people, working for people to help them in the maritime environment.

MR. LAWRENCE: Well, Nat, I'm afraid we're out of time. Dave and I want to thank you for joining us.

DR. HEINER: Well, thank you for having me. It's been a lot of fun.

MR. LAWRENCE: This has been The Business of Government Hour our featuring conversation with Nat Heiner, Chief Knowledge Officer and Deputy Chief Information Officer of the U.S. Coast Guard. Be sure and visit us on the web at There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's interesting conversation. Again, that's This is Paul Lawrence. See you next week.

Dr. Nat Heiner interview
Dr. Nat Heiner

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