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.

Johnnie Burton interview

Friday, June 3rd, 2005 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"Deep water production of the Gulf of Mexico has been fantastic. It has surpassed the volume of oil that's produced in traditional shallower parts of the gulf. This shows that oil and gas reserves exist in areas where we never thought about going before."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 06/04/2005
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs...

Missions and Programs

Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Friday, April 8, 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 special guest this morning is Johnnie Burton, Director of Mineral Management Service of the US Department of Interior. Good morning, Johnnie.

Ms. Burton: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation also from IBM is Steve Sieke. Good morning, Steve.

Mr. Sieke: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Johnnie, not many of our listeners might have heard of MMS or the Mineral Management Services. Could you tell us about its history and its mission and how it fits into the Department of Interior?

Ms. Burton: The Department of the Interior is really the department charged with being the steward of all public lands. So starting from that you can see how that department is going to have different bureaus that will specialize in different aspects of public lands.

The Minerals Management Service, as the name indicates, is charged basically with managing public lands off shore which sounds strange when you talk about lands off shore. They're submerged lands but nonetheless they are federal territory so we manage the submerged lands only in view of production of energy; that is, oil and gas production but there could be other minerals. We also handle sand and gravel, these kinds of things.

We also have a second mission which some people will argue with me is the main mission of the agency which is to collect for the American public the revenue that come from those lands and specifically the revenue that comes from minerals. So we collect rent, we collect royalties on all minerals produced on shore and minerals produced off shore.

This amounts to quite a bit of money, as you might imagine. We're one of the top agencies bringing money to the federal Treasury. Last year I think we brought in about a little over $8 billion to the Treasury from different revenue from minerals.

We also collect money, and I'm going to use a term here that may not mean the same to everyone so I'll define it quickly, from bonuses; that is, that on shore as well as off shore some of the public lands are put up for auction, if you will, for the right to exploit a mineral and that auction brings in a certain amount of money on the very front end. For example, we have several lease sales on the off shore per year and depending on which part of the off shore we are putting up for auction the money can vary.

The last sale we had was in Alaska in the Beaufort Sea off the north slope and it was somewhere around $46-47 million in bonuses alone. But then you compare that to the central Gulf of Mexico where the bonus is running to 3-400 million depending on the year, depending on the sale. So this is a considerable amount of money. Then we collect on those leases and then we collect royalty if the leases produce.

If I want to tell you how this agency came about because it really is by federal standard a very new agency, about 22-23 years old, it was created by an executive order. The people who did the jobs were scattered in different parts of the Interior Department, the USGS, the Geological Survey, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Mines. There were different bureaus.

In 1982 or so all these people were put together into one agency which is now the Minerals Management Service. It was created by executive order which means that it is the only bureau in Interior that does not have its own organic act, its own congressional statutes, if you will, legislative statutes, so it's a little bit different. But this is what we do. We're a small agency. We're a new agency. We have a very narrow focus.

Mr. Lawrence: Even though you have a narrow focus how would you describe the skills sets of the employees on your team as you were describing and I imagine engineers and geologists and then when you began to speak about the money I thought about such a wide range of skills.

Ms. Burton: You're correct. We have a narrow focus but we have a very broad set of skills that are required. Obviously in managing the offshore land we need a lot of scientists because besides just managing the land itself and the leases and the rights to drill and then the drilling operation and so on we do a fair amount of research and we do a fair amount of study of the marine environment.

So we have oceanographers, we have marine biologists, we have geophysicists, we have geologists, obviously. We have a whole slew of scientists at various levels that have very specific skill sets in some areas. We also have obviously lots of engineers because when a company wants to drill and later on if they find petroleum and they will have a production facility, a platform, we need folks that are capable of telling whether this is safely done and that means different kinds of engineers.

So we have people that watch what industry does, that set the standards, which help write the rules that industry will have to follow with the over-arching goal of keeping the environment safe, keeping the people safe. That's really a very important part of what we do. So we do have a lot of engineers.

And then when it comes to collecting the money we obviously have to check on what industry reports to us which means we have lots of auditors. We need to not only check that they reported what they really produced but we need to check that they reported the fair market value of what they produced and that in itself is a whole different area. We have to check on markets, we have to check on indices, we have to make sure that industry has deducted from its proceeds what it was allowed by rule or statute to deduct and that they paid the fair amount.

So we do a lot of valuation of minerals and a lot of auditing, obviously. Then we have to process all this data so we have a fairly good size IT-type group of people. Then we have to distribute that to the various recipients of that money and if it is on shore a lot of the money that comes from onshore mineral is split with the state.

In fact the states receive 50 percent of anything that is produced within their borders from federal lands except for Alaska, which gets about 90 percent. So we do have to keep books that are fairly complex. We also put money in various accounts within Treasury and we have to make sure this is properly done.

In order to make sure that we are doing our job correctly we ourselves are audited every year. We have a financial audit within the department and each bureau is audited and we have to reconcile all the accounts. So we have a fairly good financial group plus a technical group.

Mr. Sieke: Johnnie, speaking of employee skill sets, could you describe your own role and responsibilities as the director of the Mineral Management Service?

Ms. Burton: Well, you need to somebody to blame when things go wrong. That's what the boss is for. Each bureau at the Department of the Interior is led by a director who is an appointed person. It is a political appointment. We serve at the pleasure of the Secretary, the President, the Senate, whatever the setup is. Typically people that head bureaus have demonstrated some good administrative skills, not necessarily technical skills, although I can tell you from my personal experience that in this particular position it helps a lot to understand how that particular industry that we regulate functions and it's nice to have had some background in that industry. But basically what I must make sure of is that everything is done according to statutes, according to regulation, that the staff does what it's supposed to do, and that the train runs on time, so to speak.

I also have to make sure I have a good interface with industry. We regulate an industry but we're also very dependent on that industry to produce the energy this nation needs; therefore, we need to talk to them. We need to understand their needs as well as they need to understand how we expect them to do their job. So it's really a people's job. It's leading an organization in the direction the President wants it to be led, which in this case is produce more energy but do it extremely safely and be very sensitive to the environment and to the safety of the people. So that's what I do.

Mr. Sieke: You've had a really interesting career. I was wondering if you could share some of your past positions with us before you were appointed as the director back in March of 2002.

Ms. Burton: Well, before I was appointed to this position I served the governor of my home State of Wyoming. I was a member of his cabinet and was asked to run a department for the state. The department was the revenue department, which in Wyoming is the department that handles state taxes, sales tax certainly, which is a big part of the state. Now, the State of Wyoming does not have an income tax so it's a much smaller department than you would have in any state that has an income tax but we handled sales tax. We valued the property for property taxes and the major part of the job was mineral taxes which gave me a wonderful preparation for the job I do now. Although royalty and taxes are not the same thing I had to deal with valuation of mineral, with relationship with a company, with making sure everything was done correctly, with auditing companies to make sure they were paying their severance tax as well as their property tax on minerals, and that's what I did for seven years for the governor.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a very interesting background. What is deep-shelf gas and why is it important? We'll ask MMS Director Johnnie Burton to explain this to us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence and this morning's conversation is with Johnnie Burton, Director of the Mineral Management Service in the US Department of Interior, and joining us in our conversation is Steve Sieke. Well, Johnnie, could you describe to us the strategic goals of MMS?

Ms. Burton: The goals of the agency obviously have to be in sync with the goals of the department which are the goals of the President. The overwhelming goal of MMS is really to help production of energy for the nation and make sure that the public, since they are public lands, receive a fair return on its asset, which in this case happens to be oil, gas, and on shore there are other minerals, obviously coal, et cetera. So the strategic goal is to make sure fair market value is attained by those minerals and that the royalty on those minerals is the correct amount as decided by Congress and we need to produce as much energy domestically as we can.

Obviously we would like to hold the line on imports. This country has been importing more and more of its oil. It's a very difficult thing to do because we are a very mature province in terms of producing oil and gas and mature provinces decline. You exhaust your capabilities after a while; however, this is not entirely the case here. This country has lots of resources not being exploited; by choice at this point, but the areas that are open to exploration MMS is trying very hard to facilitate the work industry does so they can produce as much as possible.

There is a conservation, and the word is often misunderstood, component to what we do, conservation meaning managing the reservoir so they produce as much as they can. Sometimes if you produce a reservoir very fast you get a lot of production but you damage the reservoir and a lot will stay in the ground. We need to guide industry so they produce it at a level that will produce the most from what's available.

Mr. Lawrence: I understand that MMS' goals focus on two programs, the offshore mineral management program and the royalty management program. What are the goals of these programs?

Ms. Burton: Well, we call it the management revenue. The management of the revenue has to be done in such a way that we can assure the public that the minerals have been valued correctly, that the amount of royalty and the amount of rent, the amount of bonus received whenever we lease some area, is a fair market value amount and that the public receives its fair share. That's really the overwhelming goal of the Minerals Revenue Management Group.

The Offshore Minerals Management Group, their goal is to manage offshore land and we have submerged ocean land. Around the United States you have roughly 1.76 billion acres. Now, we're supposed to manage all of that but in fact most of that is off limits; we don't do anything there. So in fact we manage less than 10 percent of that total amount but that's still a very sizable amount, as you can imagine.

Right now I think in the Gulf of Mexico we have about 40 million acres that are under lease, active leases, and so our goal there is to manage the submerged land so that we will get good production if there is production to be had but at the same time we protect the marine environment we don't do any damage, the companies don't do any damage, so we have rules and regulations they have to follow. We make sure that the safety of the people is a consideration and safety in terms of the ruggedness, if you will, of the material they put off shore.

You get a hurricane like Ivan that we just had. We have to try very hard to make sure the standards of building that industry is going to follow are strong enough to stand that kind of a storm. That particular storm was like the 500-year storm. It did a lot of damage but it didn't do that much damage to the facilities. It did damage to pipeline mostly because we think there was a bottom wave that actually caused some super mud slides when it got to the mouth of the Mississippi and those mud slides literally dragged pipelines and buried them and disconnected them but because of the standards we set and the rules companies follow and the technology that they've come up with when something like that happens there are so many valves that automatically shut that even if the pipeline disconnects there's a little bit of oil coming out, what was in that segment of pipe, but there's no more oil coming from anywhere because the valves are shut. All the valves held beautifully. All of this is what we do and what we feel is the critical part of our job.

Mr. Sieke: Johnnie, there are several interesting initiatives going on now at MMS. For instance, one is the deep water gas and oil exploration being done in the Gulf of Mexico. Can you describe for our listeners what deep water oil production is and how it's done?

Ms. Burton: Deep water production is relatively new and by relatively they've been drilling in deeper and deeper water for the last 10-15 years but certainly the last four, five, six years have seen some tremendous progress in how they handle deep water. You have to sink.

Remember, drilling a well on shore, for example, you put the bit in the ground and you turn it until you get down to a certain level. You run into problems, certainly hard rock, pressures, temperatures, et cetera. You have all of those things when you drill off shore but you have one added component which is enormous. It's the water column that you have to go through.

All you need to do is go swim in the ocean to know there are lots of currents. They're not always in the same direction and they're not the same at all depths. So when you put a drill pipe into the water you're going to have to think on how to keep it straight to go where you want to go with all of the motion that you have to subject your equipment to.

When you drill in 20 feet of water it's not that big a deal; 200 feet, 400 feet, the deeper you go the worse it gets. Well, this last year, I think, or the year before we saw the record of water depths worldwide was obtained in the Gulf of Mexico. A company drilled a well going through first 10,000 feet of water. When they can do that and stay on target and drill another maybe 15-20,000 feet into the ocean floor, then you realize what technology has done in the last 10 to 15 years.

What that has shown us is that not only can they do fantastic things but it also has shown us that the reserves of oil and gas exist in areas where we never thought about going before. The deep water production of the Gulf of Mexico has been fantastic. It has now surpassed the volume of oil that's produced in the traditional part of the gulf, which is the shallower water part of the gulf. We think that the deep water production is going to really become almost three-quarters of all the gulf production and the gulf production is very substantial.

So this is a very important province and it shows that the Gulf of Mexico is not a dead area. A lot of companies had thought we need to move away from here; we've produced everything it's going to produce. Well, not so. Now that they have the capability of going deeper and deeper and further out we now have rigs drilling almost 200 miles from the coast.

Mr. Sieke: Another area of development is deep-shelf gas. Can you describe what deep-shelf gas is and what's the difference between that kind of production and deep water production?

Ms. Burton: Right, as I was saying a little bit ago, you drill certain depths in the earth but you have to worry about the column of water. In the deep gas that you're talking about it's the reverse. This is on the shallow shelf, shallow meaning shallow water, under 400 feet of water, but they never had drilled very, very deep in the floor of the ocean.

Now we think that there will be some substantive gas reserves in the very deep part of the shelf, and so that's where they are looking for natural gas. We've put in some incentive for them to do it. Since 2001 we've had an incentive to give them some royalty-free volume if they drilled below 15,000 feet in the shallow shelf. We think that our tally tells us that since then they've drilled about 26 wells; 20 of them are producing, which is a tremendous success, and the interest there is that there is all the infrastructure they need to take that gas to market because along side that shelf that has been developing for 50 years you have about 36,000 miles of pipeline so you can tie into a pipeline fairly quickly.

Mr. Lawrence: Interesting. How is MMS measuring the performance of its programs? We'll ask its director, Johnnie Burton, 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 Johnnie Burton, Director of the Mineral Management Service at the US Department of Interior, and joining us in our conversation is Steve Sieke.

Mr. Sieke: Thanks, Paul. Johnnie, with the deep water and deep shelf initiatives there are certain risks involved. How are you ensuring the safety of your workers while at the same time reducing oil spill risks?

Ms. Burton: You are hitting here on a key goal of MMS, which is obviously safety. Safety of the environment, first, we have a fair amount of rules. The industry will tell you we have too many we have to be very concerned with the marine environment, the life in the marine environment. We do a lot of research and a lot of study in areas before we put the area up for sale to begin with.

Once an area is leased and a company intends to explore we really stay in very close touch with them. We have established a lot of standards that they have to follow and industry itself works together to establish some standards for safety. It costs them a lot of money if they don't do things safely anyway so they are concerned with safety.

So are we. We watch what they do. We give standards where we feel they don't have some that are sufficient. We have a lot of inspection. We have inspectors that are all along the Gulf Coast, for example, since the Gulf of Mexico is really where the offshore activity primarily occurs. We contract with a helicopter company and every day we have inspectors going off shore watching what companies are doing.

If they are in the midst of drilling we inspect their drilling activities once a month. If they are already producing and have simply a producing facility obviously we won't inspect as often. I believe last year we had probably something like 26,000 inspections off shore so that's one of the ways we ensure that it's as safe as it can be.

Before a company can drill they have to submit their plan in great detail. We spend several weeks, months, reviewing those plans, making sure that what they will do is safe. We look at the coastal state that is adjacent to the area and we make sure that what the company plans to do is in sync with the coastal management of that state and that it's consistent with their rules and regs. So we go to great lengths to make sure that everything will be done safely.

We have unannounced drills. The companies have to have planned for spills in case there is a spill but the fact is the record is fantastic. I think that the Academy of Sciences has done some research and in the last 15 years found that there was never a spill of more than 1,000 barrels from any place in the ocean. Although that may sound like a big number to you the natural seeps, earth has area where the oil and gas is really close to the surface and it seeps in the ocean all the time. This is particularly true of the California coast, for example. The seeps are about 10 times more than anything that has been spilled from exploration.

Another area that is more difficult is the tankers. There are more spills from tankers and more pollution in the water than there is from exploration and production domestically. We study all of those. We keep track of all of those. Whenever there is any kind of spill and I mean a gallon of diesel fuel on the platform, that's reported and that's counted. We think the record is really stellar.

Mr. Sieke: That's really outstanding. We're at a time now where I think everybody has the high cost of energy in this country on their minds. I'm just wondering what MMS plans to do to try to secure as much energy as possible for the United States and how you balance that with protecting the natural environment.

Ms. Burton: It's a difficult balance, as you can imagine, Steve. What the Interior Department and the Secretary are trying to do is to give enough incentive for industry to invest in this country rather than go to West Africa, Russia, or somewhere else, although they go to those places, obviously, but we're trying to give them an incentive to stay here and produce here. I don't think we'll ever be self-sufficient. We're consuming way too much to become self-sufficient but our goal is to hold the line so we don't import more and more and more every year.

We are now close to 60 percent imports on oil which puts this country in a very precarious position, as you know. We need to try and hold the line and decrease that import quota, if you will, if we can. So we give incentives. We talked a little bit ago about incentives to drilling deep water. We give them a certain amount of royalty-free products. We do the same for gas but we also try to have a regime of regulation that is certain, that is well-defined, so industry knows what it's going to cost them to drill here, they know what they're going to have to do to live with our standards and with our regulations, and I think that has helped a lot with keeping industry here.

The last sale we had in the gulf was a very good one. The sale we just had in Alaska was the best one in 17 years. Now, having said all of that, the primary driver for industry to drill is price of the commodity. With the price of oil and natural gas lately we have seen a renewed interest in drilling and producing.

Mr. Sieke: Johnnie, MMS is involved in many important programs. I'm just curious how you measure whether goals of those programs are being met.

Ms. Burton: Well, we are setting metrics. It goes through our whole MMS organization but then it goes through the department and they are approved by a lot of people. We try to keep measurement on everything we do and at the end of the year the department looks at the results and OMB looks at the result, and, as you know, the President has a management agenda that he's been very, very strict in enforcing with these agencies so we live by the red light, the green light, and the yellow light and we all try to get to the green light, obviously.

So we do measure our performance. We have studied metrics for every one of our objectives recently and I don't know whether you're familiar with it but the government takes in kind some of its royalties. Instead of taking money from the company it actually takes the barrels of oil or the MCF of gas and sells it on the open market.

We had questions about is this a good way to do business, do we make as much money as we would if industry would just give us a check, and for that we didn't have very good metrics. Two years ago, a little after I arrived at MMS, I asked that we do a study and that the study be done by an outside entity. I didn't want us to be accused of being biased in looking at what we do so we hired an entity that does that for the private sector and asked them to come in, look at what we do, and then help us develop that will tell us how we're doing.

That has been very profitable, very good. In fact this last year we found that the royalty in kind program, as we call it, what we sold on the market, we made about $18 million more than we would have had we followed the other method which is getting a check from the companies. That's simply because, frankly, when you get 12 or 16 percent as a share of what's produced you become one of the big owners. When you do that you can get better deals on the transportation, for example, on the processing of the product. So we essentially cut the middle man off and so we do a better job but we have to prove it. The General Accounting Administration needed some proof so we just put in some metrics in place that seem to be working quite well. That's how we measure.

Mr. Lawrence: You've talked about working with industry in a very unique way. You simultaneously partner and regulate. Could you tell us about some of the management challenges of this unique relationship?

Ms. Burton: It is a difficult balance at times. Let me give you an example. About a year ago some companies came to us and said your leases are five-year leases or eight or ten-year leases depending on how deep the water is. We give them more time when they are in very difficult terrain, obviously. They said that sounds well and good but we now have the technology to drill down to 30,000 feet; however, we have to go through salt sheets. The Gulf of Mexico has a very different kind of geology. It has some salt sheets that make it very difficult for seismic wave, if you will, to come back clearly. They can't quite see what's below the salt.

They said we run all kinds of programs but we have to really know what's below there before we're going to invest millions. A well down there can cost $80 million. They said it sounds like 10 years is a lot of time but in fact they gave us a time line and they said we barely make it. If we're going to go that deep we need to have time to run all the different tests, analyze them, write the computer program that can interpret what we get, the raw data, then we need to drill. That needs a special ship. It needs special equipment, special metallurgy, for example. We need more time.

And we said as government we lease, we get money. We don't want to tie up a lease for 20 years and nothing happens so it's in our interest to get them back on the market very quickly but on the other hand we need the production. So we said okay, give us all the information of why you need more time and we're going to try under certain conditions to extend the lease.

That's the kind of partnership that we want. We make the rules. They're tough but there are times when you need to look at your rule and say in the long-term interests of the nation maybe we need to tweak that, and we do it.

But none of that would happen if we didn't have and didn't keep a fairly good relationship with the industry we regulate. They need to trust us enough to come and lay it on the table. They need to trust that we will consider what they give us and that we will make a fair decision. Now, sometimes they don't like the decision but they know they're going to get a fair hearing. And that's really a difficult balance to keep but that's the one I aim to keep and that's what I've been trying to do for the three and a half years I've been there.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting example. What does the future hold for MMS, especially as it continues to explore for ocean energy? We'll ask its director, Johnnie Burton, 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 Johnnie Burton, the Director of the Mineral Management Service at the U.S. Department of Interior, and joining us in our conversation is Steve Sieke.

Mr. Sieke: Johnnie, how do you envision MMS in the next 5 to 10 years?

Ms. Burton: I think MMS will have to continue to work with industry to produce oil and gas where we can but I think it needs to also go in a slightly different direction and it has begun the process of looking at how to encourage alternative sources of energy. The Secretary of the Interior is very, very interested in alternative sources of energy to try and shift the burden away from the petroleum into, let's say, biomass, wind energy, wave energy, and certainly MMS would play a part because off shore might be an ideal place to have wind farms, to have wave energy.

The technology is almost there. It certainly is for wind and for wave there are several mechanisms that can produce energy. I think that an agency of the federal government is going to have to be the lead agency to look at new sources. One of the sources that may be fantastic but it's not there yet is methane hydrates which exist in the Gulf of Mexico and in the permafrost of Alaska.

It's really natural gas, methane, which is trapped in frozen molecules of water. It's like big mountains of ice but if you let that ice melt the rest is gas. It compresses the gas so much that when it releases it's 600 times the volume it had in that crystal.

This is being studied by the Department of Energy, certainly, and by the Geological Survey, which is a bureau of Interior, and MMS also participates. All of these new sources of energy will have to be investigated and we need to figure out how to regulate that production when it occurs, again, for safety reasons mostly, safety of the environment and safety of the people.

I think that MMS is going to have to go more and more in that direction. Right now we don't have the authority to do that. We're hoping that Congress will take a good look at it and give Interior the authority to manage, to lead, that development because right now if you want to put a wind farm off shore you have to go probably first to the Corps of Engineers to get a license for traffic in the sea but there are lots of other things.

Who is studying the impact on the environment? Who is deciding how that's going to be decommissioned when it doesn't work any more? Who is watching over the safety of the people that work there? There are no answers right now so we're hoping that the Department of the Interior can make a good enough case with Congress that we would be given this authority.

If that occurs I suspect MMS is going to have to grow a bit. I know this is an anathema when you talk about growing a federal agency but we actually do what we do today with a fairly small number of people considering the way the federal system works and what we have to do. I think we're going to need more resources to do alternative resource management. I think in another 5-10 years I'll see a third program, if you will, because we need to do that, and we need to prepare for it now.

Mr. Sieke: Johnnie, you've talked about a lot of different promising technologies, things that might be surfacing in the near future. What are your thoughts around how you support new technologies? Do you place your bets on all those things? Do you go through a process to say no, we've got to pick a few of the most promising and invest our resources there? How do you see that unfolding?

Ms. Burton: The technology development is really done by industry. We do not invest in it. We do not choose. We let industry do the development, do the research, and come to us. Now, what we need at MMS are the tools to evaluate what they bring to us. For example, there's been tremendous progress in seismic survey but in order to really interpret what you see you need very special computer programs, et cetera. We need to have our people trained to do that and to have the tools, the computer systems, et cetera, that can look at what industry's bringing to us and say yes, that sounds safe enough or that sounds good enough.

But we don't choose. We have to be able to pass judgment on all the things that come to us which means we need to have a lot of training, a lot of specific skills. We constantly have to know what industry's doing and we stay on point with them. But essentially industry is going to make the decision of what is the most economical and most efficient and we have then to look at it and we look at the down side, this technology, what is the danger of it. We try to give them some guidelines about you could do it this way but we're worried about this, you might want to work a little more on that, et cetera.

Mr. Lawrence: Johnnie, you've spent a significant portion of your career in government service as a public servant. What advice would you give to someone interested in a career in public service?

Ms. Burton: First of all let me say that the last not even 15 years I've been involved in state government and then in federal government and prior to that I was in the private sector so I've had a feel for both. There is certainly some real rewarding aspect to serving the public. I think you need to want to serve the public. It is truly a service.

Having said that, I also can tell you that there are some really interesting things happening that government has to know about and to do -- such as all the technology, for example, which MMS employees are exposed to. For somebody who's a scientist it's real exciting. Somebody who's an engineer and sees those things coming at him, where else would he have the ability to see such a spectrum of different things? If you work in the private sector you tend to be focused on one particular type of technology, for example. Here you see it all so it's very exciting, I think.

Now, working for the government has its advantages. One of them is really a certain amount of safety and security. Chances are the MMS is not going to be dissolved tomorrow but when you work for a private company you never know how the stockholders are going to react or how the market is going to react and then you could be working for Enron. So I think there are lots of positive things working for government and I would encourage anybody who wants a fairly steady path to their career to start.

You shouldn't be afraid of starting at the bottom. There are many, many opportunities of promotions in government. I think that most staff we have at MMS are very, very knowledgeable people that seem to be happy with what they do which brings me to saying that we need to encourage people to come and work in government.

We seem to have an aging work force right now and I am concerned on how we're going to replace them when they retire. We have internships. We like people to come and detail with us, spend some time, see what you like, and then hopefully when you come out of school you come and serve an internship and we can interest you enough that you can stay with us. We'd like to do a lot of recruiting. We're trying.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Johnnie that will have to be our last question. Steve and I want to thank you for fitting us in your busy schedule and joining us this morning.

Ms. Burton: You are quite welcome. I enjoyed it. Thank you very much.

Mr. Sieke: Thank you, Johnnie.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour featuring a conversation with Johnnie Burton, the Director of the Mineral Management Service at the US Department of Interior. Be sure to visit us on the Web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org. For The Business of Government Hour I'm Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Johnnie Burton interview
06/04/2005
"Deep water production of the Gulf of Mexico has been fantastic. It has surpassed the volume of oil that's produced in traditional shallower parts of the gulf. This shows that oil and gas reserves exist in areas where we never thought about going before."

You may also

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

11/13/2017
Dr. Barclay Butler
Defense Health Agency
Component Acquisition Executive
11/06/2017
Dan Chenok
IBM Center for The Business of Government
Executive Director
11/06/2017
Haynes Cooney
IBM Institute for Business Value
Research Program Manager,
11/06/2017
John Kamensky
IBM Center for The Business of Government
Senior Fellow

Upcoming Episodes

11/27/2017
Donald Kettl
Professor, School of Public Policy
University of Maryland
12/04/2017
Jeanne Liedtka
Professor of Business Administration
University of Virginia