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.

Jenna Dorn interview

Friday, March 21st, 2003 - 20:00
Phrase: 
Jenna Dorn
Radio show date: 
Sat, 03/22/2003
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs ...

Missions and Programs

Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Friday, March 7, 2003

Mr. Lawrence: Good morning, and welcome to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, the co-chairman of The IBM Endowment for the Business of Government. We created The Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. Find out more about The Endowment by visiting us on the web at www.businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation this morning is with Jenna Dorn. Jenna is the administrator of the Federal Transit Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation. Good morning, Jenna.

Ms. Dorn: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel. Good morning, Dave.

Mr. Able: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: Jenna, let's have some context. Could you tell us about the FTA and its mission?

Ms. Dorn: Certainly, Paul. Since the earliest day of our government, the federal sector has supported transportation, because it has recognized that it is indeed the engine that drives economic growth and it is so important to connecting communities. From the Boston Post Road that connected the east coast to the Transcontinental Railroad that helped develop the West, there was a real recognition that there is an important and an appropriate role for the federal government to support.

So in 1968, Congress created what was then called the Urban Mass Transportation Administration or UMTA. Many years later it was changed to the Federal Transit Administration, recognizing that public transportation support is both urban and rural so, thus, the name Federal. What we do at the FTA is to support public transportation in communities across America. By that public transportation I mean buses, subways, light rails, vans, trolleys, and even ferries in appropriate states.

Each year the FTA gives about $7 billion of grants to every state and to about 600 transit agencies. Most of this money goes to support the purchase of capital equipment like buses or maintenance facilities, but also we create brand-new rail systems for smaller communities as well. We also provide technical assistance because as you can imagine, when you're building hundreds of millions of dollars, and in some cases, billion-dollar projects, the environmental planning, the community outreach, the construction oversight, is a very complicated matter. So technical assistance is a big part of our role as well.

Mr. Lawrence: Give us a sense of the budget, and also the number of people, and I was curious as you described the different functions, the skill sets of the employees.

Ms. Dorn: It's a very diverse group, and that's what makes it such a fun and challenging opportunity for me as its leader. We have about 500 full-time employees. In addition to that, we have about 200 private-sector experts who help us with one of the best, I'm proud to say, oversight programs in government.

We have a great team, and it's diverse, as I mentioned. Many planners and engineers who help local communities find transit solutions and ensure that the investments are really a value added. And like every government agency, we have policy makers, lawyers, marketers, budget experts as well.

Mr. Abel: So what are your duties and responsibilities as the administrator?

Ms. Dorn: Fundamentally, I need to make sure that the Federal Transit Administration's policies and practices do what the President asks, and that is that we be results-oriented, customer focused, citizen centered. Part of that job is listening to stakeholders and to help ensure that in fact the way that we provide the money and the oversight that we offer really does provide a value added to taxpayers.

Public transportation provides terribly important benefits to communities, everything from making sure that we are mobile across to the community, to relieving congestion, to providing environmental benefits and saving energy costs. So that piece is a responsibility that all of us on the FTA team take seriously. We then need to advise the secretary about the policies and the projects, and that's my job to make sure that every dollar we spend makes a difference.

Mr. Abel: Can you tell us a little bit about your previous experiences before you were the administrator, particularly your roles in government previous to this responsibility?

Ms. Dorn: I've had a rather eclectic sort of career, Dave, in terms of I've had the privilege of serving in the Executive Branch in two different cabinet agencies in three different administrations. And I've also worked in the Legislative Branch in Congress, and have been an executive in the not-for-profit world. So it really has helped me a lot do each of my jobs by having that diversity of experience.

Prior to serving in my current job, I had the privilege of serving under George W. Bush's father, 41, as they affectionately call him, as the assistant secretary for labor. Prior to that, I was the associate deputy secretary at the Department of Transportation under President Reagan. I had the opportunity to help a private-sector entity get its start at the Department of Transportation as well, where I was head of what was called the Commercial Space Transportation Agency. Under President Reagan he was eager to privatize the opportunity to get to space, so they moved that from the NASA environment to the Department of Transportation, and that was a really fun and enjoyable job.

I had the privilege to get an overview of the microcosm of policy by serving in the U.S. Senate as a staff member for Senator Mark Hatfield, both when he was chairman of the Appropriations Committee, and on his personal staff as well. In between those times, I was an executive at one of the nation's largest not-for-profits, the American Red Cross. So I feel like I've been lucky to have some really interesting and diverse experiences.

Mr. Abel: How does this diversity help you in performing your job today? It is a very eclectic background. It's very broad across the roles that you've played in government. How does that play in with what you do as the administrator on a daily basis?

Ms. Dorn: One of my professors in college used to say, "Where one stands depends upon where one sits." What I have found in my job is that one of the most important things to be able to understand and relate is the perspective of another individual, whether it would be another Executive Branch agency, member of Congress, or a stakeholder. That helps you understand how to problem solve. So a big part of any executive's responsibilities, I think, is mediating, moderating, consensus building, focusing on the big picture.

I have learned in each and all of my jobs the very important value of outreach to stakeholders is listening. And I think one of most important skills that I learned that was valuable in any of these jobs, in government or not-for-profit, was the skill of writing. My journalism background helped me develop that skill, and I didn't realize quite then how useful that would be, because if you can't write it down or talk about it, then it's very hard to be able to solve the problem and deal with the issue.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask a little bit more about your background. In terms of working in government and also the nonprofits, could you give us a sense of the comparison about the management approaches in both of those sectors?

Ms. Dorn: I think particularly under this secretary and under this President, there is more of a focus in government towards outcomes and results, and that is a very I think important sort of initiative through the President's Management Agenda that this President with the support of Secretary Mineta has really moved forward.

It isn't always as accepted in a not-for-profit, or, in fact, even in the Legislative Branch where process tends to be product. So I really appreciate that this administration is focused more on results and outcomes. In public transportation, what that means is more riders, getting more people out of their cars so we can have fewer congested roads and riding public transportation. So it's not about, for example, how many buses you have, how many miles of light rail, but how many people are on the buses or on the light rails. So that's a real important focus. I think it's not always as accepted in a more not-for-profit environment.

Mr. Lawrence: How about in terms of the Legislative and Executive Branches? You talked a little bit about process is the outcome, but how about some comparisons in terms of the management styles in those two sectors or those two parts of our government?

Ms. Dorn: By the very nature of our charges, the Executive and the Legislative have a different responsibility. There is such an emphasis on management, or should be, management for results, and it's a very different sort of thing than looking at the 30,000-foot level which is what you do on a congressional committee. When you really get down into the issue and figure out what are the pros and cons of doing any particular policy or whatever, you have to have depth and expertise on your staff to be able to weigh those pros and cons, and that isn't always necessary in another environment like a congressional environment. So management is the most important thing, frankly, to getting the policies accomplished in the Executive Branch, and it doesn't have to be in the Legislative Branch.

Mr. Lawrence: You've talked a lot about your experiences in your career about the importance of involving stakeholders. Could you give us a sense of who the stakeholders are for the FTA?

Ms. Dorn: That's one of the most fun things about the job, actually, Paul, because it's such a diverse set. We have mayors, city councilmen and governors, all of whom care about public transportation. We had rider groups, people who don't have the choice; they don't have a car. We have the providers. Every organization from a small not-for-profit like the United Cerebral Palsy that provides opportunities to get to work or other places, to large transit agencies like the New York's transit agency that offers 7 million rides a day. There is a very diverse set of stakeholders.

Sometimes that makes it very complicated, but it always is rewarding because the community comes together and makes that kind of decision about what kind of investments they want to make in public transportation.

Mr. Lawrence: Come back after the break as we continue talking with Jenna Dorn of the Federal Transit Administration. This is The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence. This morning's conversation is with Jenna Dorn. Jenna is the administrator of the Federal Transit Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation. Joining us in our conversation is Dave Able.

Mr. Abel: Jenna, let's talk a little bit more about FTA. How does FTA fit in with the mission and activities of the Department of Transportation?

Ms. Dorn: Good question. FTA is one of about 10 what we call modal administrations within the Department of Transportation, and, of course, we're focused on the public part of transportation, as a grant-making agency to transit systems.

One of the most important things that is important to note is that public transportation is really a lifeline to jobs, to community, and to friends and family for those who rely on transit. It also supports economic growth and vitality; it reduces congestion, and improves the quality of life. Certainly it conserves energy, and there is no more important time to do that.

None of these benefits, however, can really occur unless we work at the community level and at the nationwide level to make sure that we have a seamless kind of transportation system. So the other modal administrations, whether it's the airports of highways, all of them have to be user friendly and have to be connected to each other so we make a transportation system that works well together.

This year is a terribly important time to be talking about that because the surface modes of transportation will be having their programs reauthorized for the next 6 years, under Congress's direction. So the administration is in the process of finalizing its proposal to move forward, and there will be some really good discussions over the next number of months on that.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's spend a few minutes talking about the programs of the FTA. Could you tell us more about the urbanized area formula program?

Ms. Dorn: That is probably the biggest part of our grant program in the Federal Transit Administration. We give about $4-1/2 billion to cities to buy buses, to make major capital investments. Most of that is distributed by formula, and flexibility is really the watchword for the urbanized area formula program.

The kinds of things that we want to change in the administration's reauthorization bill, we want to make sure that the local community which is the appropriate place for community decisions to be made about transportation has the option about where and how they want to invest in their transportation systems. So that's a very important piece of the urbanized area program.

We also want to start, and the administration has proposed, a passenger-based performance incentive, and that's a very important and growing piece that this President wants to emphasize, what we're all about is outcomes. For public transportation, the real outcome is number of riders, and we think that while ridership has moved upward dramatically over the last 6 years, 28 percent more people ride public transportation across America now than they did 6 years ago, we think we can do even better, and we need to do better, particularly in America's cities.

Mr. Abel: So how about the New Starts Program? What is that, and how does it facilitate cost-effective transit solutions?

Ms. Dorn: The New Starts Program, under this President's '04 budget, is a $1.5 billion investment, and it's what it says: it's new investments or extensions of existing transportation infrastructure. For example, we build light rail systems, heavy rail systems, and the whole component of the New Starts Program is really very performance based, because we have a very intensive way of evaluating literally hundreds of projects that are proposed to the federal government, to the FTA, to be built in communities across America.

We have a very comprehensive kind of plan to figure out are these projects really going to provide benefits for the costs that they will cost, and what other kinds of benefits in terms of the environment will they provide. Then we rate those projects, and we tell Congress that we think this project is highly recommended, recommended, or not recommended, and then the administration and Congress work through that kind of investment.

Typically, for a capital investment sort of new start, the federal government provides about 50 percent of the capital infrastructure. Right now we have probably 30 projects across the country from light rail, to trolleys, to buses, bus rapid-transit projects, heavy rail, from the east coast to the west coast. So it's a very important part of our program, one part of our program that we're very proud of, because we spend so much time and energy making sure that the taxpayer dollar will really be a value at the end of the day.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you tell us a about the state-administered programs? I've pulled out a couple, the Rural Formula Program, the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities Program, the Job Axis and Reverse Commute Program, and the New Freedom Initiative?

Ms. Dorn: We talk about major capital infrastructure in the new starts, and at the other end of the spectrum really are the smaller but equally important services that we provide, primarily for people who don't have choices about whether or not to ride transportation. We're talking about programs that we administer at FTA like for the elderly and disabled, which are formula grants that are distributed through the states, and then the states do a suballocation to about 1,300 local transit providers.

What the role of the government is, is to make sure that in communities across the country that there can be service provisions for the elderly, for the disabled, for the low-income that get to work, etcetera, so that we believe that that's a very important part of our program. What we're trying to do is to rationalize those programs and to make sure that we never have a situation in a community where you have a van that is taking the elderly at one end of the neighborhood and at another end of the neighborhood you might have the United Cerebral Palsy providing a disabled ride, when in fact if there were more combination and more local community planning, you could have a more efficient kind of service provision and you'd have more service to more riders.

So we want to ease the restrictions that have grown up over time, in terms of government kinds of requirements. We want to make it easier to get the service to people who need it. So there are a number of proposals in our reauthorization proposal that would do just that.

Mr. Abel: How does that differ from the Metropolitan and Statewide Planning Programs?

Ms. Dorn: One of the most important things, Dave, about putting together a good public transportation system is planning for it, whether it's planning with a number of providers across the stakeholder groups, or whether it's deciding just what kind of investment should be made that makes sense.

In some growing communities that are already large, for example, a light rail makes sense. In others, it may be a lower-cost technology like bus rapid transit that would allow us to make a more cost-effective investment. Or it may make sense to have one service provider, as I mentioned earlier, to provide services for elderly and the disabled, or you might want to mix it up.

The key to that is local community planning. So in this President's budget we've increased the amount of money for planning so that we can make sure that every dollar we spend really produces something.

Mr. Lawrence: You've described a wide range of programs, and I'm curious, how are you measuring the performance of these programs?

Ms. Dorn: I think we can do a better job, Paul, in terms of measuring the performance, and that's why the proposal that this secretary has supported has a component for performance-based funding that's in addition to the formulas. What we're saying is that those transit agencies that can establish that in fact their systems have increased ridership, then we want to give an extra bonus, because that's our goal. So we're working very closely with a number of agencies, including the National Academy of Public Administration to help us figure out how can we make an effective performance-based sort of system.

We've done that for our grantees, but we've also done that inside the FTA in terms of performance-based systems that we're implementing that we may be able to have a chance to talk about in a moment.

Mr. Lawrence: Are all the outcome measures clear, or is that part of what still needs to be developed in many cases?

Ms. Dorn: In some cases, it is difficult to establish how specifically an outcome relates to a particular investment. Let me give you an example. The value of an investment in a light rail, heavy rail system, or bus rapid transit, the value to the environment or to the creation of economic development around the stations, to be able to quantify that can sometimes be difficult. So many of the benefits are indirectly as a result of the investment.

So the most significant though not the only one, the most significant measure we believe is how many riders are using the facility. So that's pretty clear. We believe there are a number of incentives that we can provide so that the investment that is made is made on the right basis, on an outcome sort of orientation.

Mr. Lawrence: How when you measure the ridership or look at ridership do you compare? I think you pointed out that some people have options outside of public transportation; other people have fewer options, maybe none.

Ms. Dorn: We don't want to only count the number of riders overall, but because we believe that the federal government has a role to play in helping to ensure that those who don't have a choice about riding or not riding, because they don't have a car, that we want to measure the ridership of those groups as well. So we want to measure ridership at a lot of different levels.

You have to take into account the community size, because ridership in New York is quite a different matter than ridership in Wagontire, Oregon, even on a percentage basis. So we're very conscious of that, and we want to carefully plan how we do this best.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. We have to go to a break. Join us in a few minutes as we continue talking about management with Jenna Dorn of the FTA. How does the FTA link budget to performance? We'll ask Jenna for her 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 Jenna Dorn. Jenna is the administrator of the Federal Transit Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation. Joining us in our conversation is Dave Able.

Mr. Abel: Jenna, the 2004 budget was recently announced. Can you give us some general highlights of the budget and how it compares to your budget in previous years?

Ms. Dorn: I'm really pleased by the good news for public transit in the FY 2004 budget, as proposed by the President, especially in light of the many critical and costly challenges facing this country. This budget keeps our commitment to public transit by sustaining the record level of funding that was present in the '03 budget, and I think it's really useful to give a perspective.

Over the last 6 years, the federal investment in public transportation has grown by 25 percent, and that's terribly good news in my view because these investments have provided so many benefits to the community. In terms of other increases within the Federal Transit Administration, I'm pleased that the Rural Transit Program will grow by 20 percent. I think that's really important, because there are about 40 percent of our rural counties who have no public transportation. If you were to take all of the rural communities together and determine how many are choice riders versus those who have no choice, about one-third of the people in rural communities across America are transit dependent. So that 20 percent increase for rural transit is I think a really important and responsible step.

Mr. Abel: In your budget request, you have some very clear priorities. Can you talk about the four main goals of the FTA?

Ms. Dorn: I think the goals really reflect what the taxpayers need, want, and expect. There are just a couple of fundamental principles, first of all, common-sense transit solutions. We want to give states and communities the freedom and the flexibility to solve their own transit challenges in terms of determining where and how those investments should be made. That's always been the federal philosophy, really, in terms of transportation - particularly public transportation - that federal investments are appropriate, but local decisions need to be made because of the wide diversity in geography, in culture, in preference, in economic base, etcetera. So we want to make sure that we can simplify and streamline our programs to get the most transit service for the dollar.

Over the years, a number of different requirements have grown up. They are not always valuable. So we want to streamline the programs. We know that funding categories and restrictions shouldn't get in the way of common-sense transit solutions. Ironically, and Secretary Maneta has often mentioned this to me, one of the worst things that can happen is that a community's decision about what kind of investments to make in public transportation are skewed by the pots of money. In other words, I really would like to do a bus rapid transit sort of investment, but there is only money for a light rail or fixed guide way, so, therefore, I'll modify my merit-based program and try to fit it into the confines of how we've built the funding pot. So that we think doesn't really make sense.

Another important principle is really A-plus performance. That's both within FTA, our responsibility, and also in all of our transit agencies and service providers across the country. We want to provide improvement where it matters the most, and that's in getting more riders to more locations with less overlap in service. So we have some performance-based incentives that we discussed earlier to encourage an emphasis on ridership, and we want to encourage cooperation and coordination with a number of transit-related programs that are occurring in the community. We want to make sure that all of those make sense and they perform well.

The third principle is really promoting independence and economic opportunity, and that's what public transit is all about. As I mentioned before, really transit can be a lifeline for many groups, including people with disabilities, the elderly, and low-income, and our programmatic changes are designed to make it easier to make communities serve those kinds of needs.

We also think it's pretty important that because there are so many needs out there in terms of public transportation and our investments are generally keeping up with those needs, that it's important that those funds be delivered by formula rather than, forgive me for saying it, but many of the programs delivered by earmarking. We think that the more flexibility we can provide to local communities by formula, the better that is.

In some cases, for example, we have only half the urbanized areas who get bus money, yet the whole country needs bus money because half the urbanized areas get earmarks. So we think it is really important to emphasize that piece.

The last piece is keeping our commitment which means staying on target to improve transit infrastructure and maintaining record levels of funding for public transportation, and making sure that we continue the long-held commitment that there is a significant role of the federal government in providing investments for these kinds of services.

Mr. Lawrence: How are you linking budget and performance?

Ms. Dorn: We have ways go in that in terms of our programmatic efforts, and I think we've made a significant first step in introducing people-based performance incentives for part of our formula program. I think that will have long-term, wide-ranging impacts to encourage all of our transit agencies that the number-one focus is increasing ridership. If we want to get all the benefits for public transportation, for decreasing congestion, helping the environment, reducing energy consumption, we have to get people out of their cars and onto public transportation. We recognize very fully that we need a partnership; we're not car-bashing, because we need that partnership with the highways and transit, but we need more ridership on public transportation.

I guess I would just saying linking the budget to performance, also, I'm very proud that the Federal Transit Administration has a very aggressive and value-added oversight program so that when we make a federal investment in transit, we are sure, or as sure as we can be, that that investment will pay off, that we'll be on time, on budget. We have many, many major infrastructure projects that we're building throughout the country from helping New York in terms of recovery after the terrorist attack in their $4.5 billion subway and transit reconstruction program, to helping communities in California and all in between who have light rail or bus rapid transit technology programs. So we keep a very right rein to make sure that these are value-added investments, and I believe in large very large part they are.

Mr. Abel: The President has made very clear through his management agenda the need to make management improvements across the federal government. How are you working to implement management improvements in the FTA in particular?

Ms. Dorn: The secretary and the President have taken this piece very seriously. And as you mentioned, Dave, the President's Management Agenda is very results-oriented, customer-focused, citizen-centered, and we've taken that to heart.

About a year ago, our senior management team at FTA developed a strategic business plan to guide our work. It identified a number of major goals and 16 specific action items. We've been very focused with regular meetings not about process, but about outcomes, and we want to be really focused on that, and I think that the taxpayer will be better for our focus on the outcomes.

As a management team, we've stepped up to the plate by agreeing to be held jointly accountable for four specific measurable accomplishments, and if we don't meet those, including one of them, meaning increasing ridership in areas across the country, if we don't meet them, then our performance bonus depends on that success. So I think that's a very important piece.

We have increased emphasis on cost-effectiveness in our projects. We want to do a better job of assessing the risks, whether we're tunneling in Seattle for a major light rail project, or we're building a bus rapid-transit guide way, we want to understand better going in what kind of risks there are, and then be able to hold ourselves accountable to the bottom line, the budget, the costs, and the benefits as well.

Mr. Abel: We've talked quite a bit this morning about reauthorization. Can you tell us more about the President's reauthorization proposal for FTA?

Ms. Dorn: Sure. First of all, we have an underlying foundation of what's called T-21, which was the initial or the second phase of investment in public transportation. We think that foundation is very solid and we have learned a lot. What we want to do is kind of tweak that and make some fundamental improvements.

The second piece is the predictability of those funds. What we have found is that the more that the state and local governments understand that there will be a long-term commitment at dollar-level X for investments, the more they will investment. In fact, over the past 10 years, state and local investment has grown even more, because there is that certainty, that predictability, that 3 years from now they're going to have this dollar amount. That allows communities to make longer-term investments. And I'm sure as you would know, investments in transit and public transportation and transportation generally, many of them have to be longer-term.

Another price of local flexibility, so that we don't have to follow pots of money with particular requirements, but, in fact, the locals can determine what they need. Lastly, we think it's really important the more we can streamline the programs and remove burdensome requirements from the grantees, the better our dollar will perform locally.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue talking about management with Jenna Dorn of the FTA. What's the FTA's role in the post-9/11 year? We'll ask Jenna to give us her perspective when The Business of Government Hour continues.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Jenna Dorn. Jenna is the administrator of the Federal Transit Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation. Joining us in our conversation is Dave Able.

Mr. Abel: Jenna, security is critical to most organizations, in fact, all organizations in the government right now, but probably none more than the modals within the Department of Transportation. Can you tell us about the Post-9/11 Security Initiative and what FTA is doing in regards to that initiative?

Ms. Dorn: Sure. It's such an important question, Dave. Really, transit systems are safer and more secure now than they have ever been. However, it's important to note that just by the very design of our transit systems, they're designed to be open and accessible. That, in effect, makes them vulnerable, as well as the history around the world where transit systems have been the targets of terrorist attack. I'm really pleased to say and proud to say, however, that with the full and aggressive cooperation of our transit partners throughout the country, as well as with the FTA and the strong emphasis, as you know, under Secretary Maneta's leadership, we've made some really important progress.

Let me just give the highlight of what we've learned in terms of the most important investments that can be made at the federal government and at the state and local governments. What you've learned is that you get the most bang for the buck in the transit environment in terms of security by investing in three things: training of personnel; emergency response; and public awareness. In all of those things, we have been very active, and I'll get to that in just a moment, but I want to tell you about some of the things we did initially after 9/11.

We put together a team of experts, transit experts, terrorism experts, intelligence experts, that went out to 37 of our top transit agencies, the subway systems, the light rail systems, and those that had high consequence, high assets in the community. And we did a very thorough - not a cookie cutter - but a very thorough assessment about vulnerabilities and threats. We learned a great deal about that that we were able to transmit to transit agencies across the country, and each of those agencies learned a lot as well. We are now sending them in follow-up teams to perfect some of the plans and the emergency response things that need to be done in each of those areas.

In addition to the training piece that I mentioned, where we have increased the kind of training that is offered for first-level supervisors, what we want to make sure is that not only is the public aware that there is heightened sensitivity on the part of the operators and the bus drivers, but that they are trained well to know what to look for, what to do, and it's those first-line supervisors that really can play an important role, whether it's a bus system, a subway, or a light rail.

The emergency response plan, there is nothing more important than that, and as I noted very dutifully just a few short weeks after the terrorist attack, when I went to New York and had a briefing from the transit, the police, and the fire officials, they said literally tens of thousands of lives were saved as a result of that collaboration, collaboration across not just the transit folks, not just the emergency, the fire and the police, all working together. They had an emergency operations center, they talked to each other, they were aware of what was important to do. They trusted each other, and all of that is very important.

We have established, through 17 regional forums throughout the country, that kind of learning experience with 2-day seminars bringing all of these folks together to try to more finely tune those emergency response plans, and that's been a very important effort as well.

Mr. Abel: As the Transportation Security Administration increases their focus on surface transport where they've mainly focused in the past year or so on air transport, what will be the nature of the relationship between FTA and TSA?

Ms. Dorn: I am very committed and encouraged by the fact that we already have a very good and strong working relationship with our colleagues at TSA, and I am confident that that will continue. We have in effect an agreement, a memorandum of understanding, both in sprit and in kind, about who does what and how we do it together. The real benefit of TSA being a part of Homeland Security is not only the intelligence sharing, but also being able to prioritize resources not only across transportation sectors, but across all sectors.

For me in the FTA, I may say we need capital equipment to make sure that we protect against this or that, but I don't have the 30- or 50-000-foot level about what are the threats in this environment versus the port security or versus the banking industry, so that piece will just be very important. But I remain very confident that that working relationship will continue and be better, in fact, because of the affiliation of a TSA in a broader Homeland Security department.

Mr. Lawrence: How is technology changing the way FTA does business?

Ms. Dorn: In terms of FTA, Paul, I think that a very substantive kind of contribution that technology has made is in the arena of electronic government, or e-gov, I guess as it's called. Our grantees use a web-based grant application and approval system that's really one of the best in government. In fact, in the last two weeks we've gotten an award from outside not-for-profits who say we have a very good system.

That lets us transfer the funds as quickly as possible once a completed grant application has been received. As you can imagine, with more than $7 billion every year in grant funds going out to communities, that kind of more responsive timeframe in grant application review allows us to make sure that the money goes to the right place in a timely fashion.

In terms of technology being used by real people, in terms of the riders, that technology has been so important in terms of encouraging ridership. Many of you may seen the next bus technology or the next train coming technology that allows you, as someone who is riding or me as someone who's riding, to note when that bus actually will be there. It makes you feel better, it makes you feel more confident, it allows you to schedule things, and that encourages ridership. So there are many areas of technology that over the past even 5 or 6 years have made a big difference in our ability to provide public transportation in a seamless way and in a way that really matters to local communities.

Mr. Abel: What are some of the next challenges on the horizon for your agency?

Ms. Dorn: Certainly, reauthorization of the Surface Transportation Bill is absolutely top on our list. That's a very important sort of effort we want to continue, the very good foundation that has been established through T-21.

Mr. Abel: What about transit issues in general? What are the next big things that are going to arise as far as issues in transit?

Ms. Dorn: I think the whole competition for funds. Transit has become trendy in a very good way, I think. People are recognizing, in many places: we can't build more roads; we can't extend more; we have to maintain the system. And in some places where the roads are - expansions are obviously very important.

But because of that, there is more and more demand on public transportation infrastructure. Fortunately, the investments that the federal government has provided to date have virtually been keeping up with the maintenance and the demand, but we see down the road that there are more and more communities that want to make major capital investments. So that's a very important piece of what we see in the future.

In addition, I think the whole issue of focusing attention directly on our customers, the riding public, that's a terribly important issue not yet talked enough about, but we're trying to remedy that.

Mr. Abel: Can you give us your highlights of your vision for the agency over the next 5 to 10 years, taking into account some of the factors that we've talked about during the conversation this morning?

Ms. Dorn: Perhaps to summarize it, I would hope that public transportation in America's future would be the mode of choice. I don't mean by that that every person would choose transit, but every person would have an opportunity to choose transit, in their community, if that's what worked for them. So that would be one piece of it.

I guess from a more parochial perspective as the administrator of FTA, I would hope that FTA would be recognized as the best resource and the source of expertise to help ensure that America continues to make very sound investments in public transportation.

Mr. Lawrence: You've had a long career in public service so I'm curious, what advice would you give to a person interested in starting a career in the public sector?

Ms. Dorn: First, I would tell them that there's no better career than in public service. It's just a wonderful opportunity. I feel privileged to serve in this department, under this secretary and this President, and it's a career you can't beat. So I would tell people, young people that, or even mid-career people I would tell that.

I also think it's important to be open to opportunities and to learn as much as you can by every experience because every experience will be valuable to the next one. I guess the third thing I would say is that the more you can hone your skills in listening, writing, communication, analysis, it will stand you in good stead no matter what sector, or no matter what agency, you serve in.

Mr. Lawrence: Jenna, we're out of time. Dave and I want to thank you for joining us this morning.

Ms. Dorn: Thank you. I've really enjoyed it, Dave and Paul. And I would call attention to your listeners that we have a website, www.fta.dot.gov. Thanks so much.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you. This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Jenna Dorn, administrator for the Federal Transit Administration in the U.S. Department of Transportation. Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and research and get a transcript of today's very interesting conversation. Again, that's businessofgovernment.org. This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Jenna Dorn interview
03/22/2003
Jenna Dorn

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