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.

Kenneth M. Mead interview

Friday, April 22nd, 2005 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"One of our top management challenges in the aviation, highway, and rail area is transportation safety. There is still a long way to go with new emerging safety issues. We just have to stay on the edge and tackle all of those problems."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 04/23/2005
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs...

Missions and Programs

Complete transcript: 

Friday March 25, 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 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 Kenneth Mead, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Good morning, Ken.

Mr. Mead: Good morning.

Mr. Lawrence: And also joining us in our conversation is Young Kim from IBM.

Good morning, Young.

Mr. Young: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Ken, let's start by talking about the Department. Can you begin by describing the organization and the mission, and something about the size of the Department of Transportation?

Mr. Mead: Why, sure. The Department is -- I think it was set up in 1966, and has about ten agencies today; covers aviation, rail, auto, trucks. We have Federal Highway Administration, pipelines, that may surprise some people, but the Department of Transportation has jurisdiction over pipeline safety. Up until the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Coast Guard was part of the Department of Transportation. It is no longer. And for a brief period of time, the Transportation Security Administration was part of the Department.

So for a period of time there, they had twelve agencies; now they have ten. The annual budget is just about $60 billion. They employ about 54-, 55,000 people. A fair number of those are air traffic controllers, and we have offices all over the United States. And what's really important, I think, to remember about the Department of Transportation is its basic mission, which is the safe -- always safe -- efficient, reasonably priced, environmentally inoffensive transport, regardless of the mode of transportation. It could be car, it could be bus, it could be truck, train, or ship.

Mr. Kim: Ken, if we could, let's focus on the Office of Inspector General. What is an Inspector General's role in a federal agency? And a second question is, what do you do and how do you do it?

Mr. Mead: That's a big question. Let's take apart the mission of the Inspector General, first of all. Then we can talk about how the Inspector General does the job. Above all, your job is to do independent and objective audits and investigations. And the term audit focuses on, more or less, systemic reviews of programs, and in case of Environment, it could be of environmental programs; or Energy, it could be of energy programs; and Transportation, it could be transportation programs. Investigations focuses on situations when people -- somebody, or somebodies, or a corporation, or corporations, have done something wrong, often criminally. So most larger Inspector General offices are divided into at least two basic parts. One part is audit evaluations; the other part is criminal investigations.

Basic mission: prevent, detect waste fraud and abuse; promote economy efficiency, effectiveness. A lot of people do not realize part of the Inspector General's job is to review pending legislation, regulations, and review them with a view towards making recommendations, and most importantly, an overarching obligation probably runs counter to Management 101 principles, but you have a dual reporting requirement. It's set right there in the statute. You report to your Secretary, the Cabinet officer, and you report to the Congress of the United States. And you have a legal obligation to keep both of them fully and currently informed.

Mr. Kim: Great. Let's expand on that a little bit. I'm curious as to what makes an effective Inspector General, and how do you measure your success?

Mr. Mead: Well, I think what makes an effective Inspector General, you have to be independent; you don't pull your punches; you make sure the Secretary's informed; you make sure the Congress is informed. But also, and this is a very important corollary, I think it's part of the Inspector General's job to be constructive, proactive, and solution-oriented. And by that I mean we ought to be out there trying to prevent problems from getting worse, or prevent problems from occurring in the first place. And once you do find a problem, to work with the Secretary, work with Congress, to come up with a solution that -- well, in my own case, serves the traveling public.

Mr. Lawrence: Can you give us a snapshot of your office? You described a broad mission at one level. I'm curious about the size of your team, and even the members of your team, in terms of their skill set.

Mr. Mead: Well, we have about 430, 440 staff. About a third of my office, maybe 25 percent, is criminal investigators, and the remainder is mostly professional staff in the audit and evaluation disciplines. It used to be that most of the people in the audit and evaluation discipline were auditors; that is, people who had majored in accounting. I think that in the contemporary Inspector General's office, to meet the issues and demands of the day, serve the Congress, the Secretary, traveling public, you need a more multi-disciplined staff, so we have a very multi-disciplined staff. We have auditors; we have public policy people; we have some safety statisticians; I have some air traffic controllers on my staff, economists, and if I have left out anybody on my staff -- probably left out a discipline or two -- but the point is that in today's IG office, you need a multi-disciplined staff. You can't take on the tough issues of the day with just an auditor or a criminal investigator.

Mr. Lawrence: And would I be correct in, as I envision your staff, seeing them as somewhat older, because experience would seem to be important as they perform their activities, or is that a misperception?

Mr. Mead: I think that's a misperception. Actually, my particular staff is, if not the youngest average age in the Department, it's certainly among the very youngest of the staffs. And as I said, it's a mix of disciplines. And one skill I think that is understated, or maybe undervalued, that's becoming much more important, in my opinion, both investigator side, auditor side, evaluation side, is communication skills; people who can write in clear and lucid prose, and concisely, for people that are among the most-senior decision making in the U.S. Government, and in my opinion, have a leg up career-wise.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you select, or how are the programs selected that you'll audit or investigate?

Mr. Mead: A whole variety of ways, and -- I mean, I'll begin to tick them off. One, of course, is a law. Congress passes a law. A good example: Congress passed a law directing us to review motor carrier safety. They directed us to review the safety situation at the border, preliminary to letting Mexican trucks into the interior United States. Another way is just a Congressional request, a chairperson of a Congressional committee, or a ranking member of the committee, writes the Inspector General and says, I think you need to look at this. We try to give equal treatment to the ranking members of committees, who right now are Democrats, and a nod to committee chairs. So we approach on a bipartisan basis.

Another way is every Inspector General's office has a hotline, and people call this hotline. They can call it anonymously, or they can leave their name. Another way is somebody just writes a letter in. Often, the Secretary of Transportation will ask me to do an audit or investigation. For example, over the Christmas holidays, you remember the meltdown in Philadelphia with, in that case, USAir, and in Cincinnati and COMAIR/Delta, that very weekend, that very Christmas weekend -- I remember it very well -- the Secretary made it real clear that there was going to be an Inspector General investigation. He said I'm requesting the Inspector General -- but it was a very firm request, I might add -- and so we did that.

Other ways, we self-initiate work. We have the legal authority to self-initiate work. There are occasions when neither the news media nor the Congress nor the hotline nor the Secretary tell us that this is an area that you all should be examining, that we judge, actually, it does need to have a close examination. Oftentimes, that occurs in an area that involves -- it may involve a safety issue, transportation safety issues; it could involve what you might judge to be an obscure accounting issue, but in fact affects, protects the taxpayers' interest. So we self-initiate work, too. You want a statistical breakdown? I would say that probably about 50 percent of our work is requested by the Congress, another 40, 45 percent is requested either by the Secretary or one of his immediate assistants, or one of the Administrators, such as Marion Blakey, the Administrator of FAA, and probably 10, 12 percent is initiated by ourselves.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting. I didn't realize the self-initiation was such a high percentage.

What are the top managing challenges at the Department of Transportation? We'll ask the Department's Inspector General, Ken Mead, for his perspective when our 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 today's conversation is with Kenneth Mead, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

And joining us in our conversation is Young Kim.

Well, Ken, the OIG has identified top management challenges for the Department in FY05. Could you tell us about these?

Mr. Mead: Yes. First of all, every year, the Inspector Generals are required to identify their top management challenges, and to report such to their Secretary, to the Executive Office of the President, and to the Congress of the United States. So we do that. And I think it's a very good exercise. We ended up with what we call top ten management challenges. I don't know exactly where the number ten came from, but it's a good enough number. And there's certainly ten challenges at the Department of Transportation. And I group them -- one huge challenge, when you have a budget of $60 billion, and much of the money is going to buy very large acquisitions, such as air traffic control, or it's going to states to build highways and bridges, or to cities to build transit systems -- there's a stewardship and oversight of federal funds so that the taxpayer knows that their dollars are going as far as they can be reasonably expected to go. And that's one challenge. I'm not going to go through all ten, but it's one of the major ones that will recur every year. It's probably always going to be a challenge when you're dealing with $60 billion a year.

I think another major challenge facing particularly the aviation area is delivering air traffic control services in a way that can accommodate the growing demands for aviation services with less money, and with an industry that's in financial distress, and there doesn't seem to be much end in sight when we seem today to be looking at fuel prices around $2.50 a gallon, and that's not only painful for the motorist, it's painful for aviation as well. I would also stress that another management challenge in the aviation area, the highway area, rail area, is transportation safety. And that's always going to be a challenge, too. There have been some remarkable strides, I think, in the last four, five years. We have reduced numbers of fatalities, but there's still a long ways to go.

Another major challenge is, frankly, inner city passenger rail; what the future of inner city passenger rail is going to be. Some people will say Amtrak, and I think you need to look at this more globally, in a broader context than just saying Amtrak; you need to say inner city passenger rail. What do we want our inner city passenger rail system to look like?

I think another major challenge increasingly for federal agencies is the relationship between security and the mission of the individual agencies. For example, just because there's a Department of Homeland Security doesn't mean that the Department of Transportation doesn't have security written into its mission. It's a very symbiotic relationship, and we're working our way through that in Transportation, but I can guarantee you other departments of government are working their way through it, too, and that is a major management challenge that we have identified.

Let me give you a quick example: HAZMAT, hazardous material; we transport lots of hazardous material in this country. Some of the safety issues in hazardous materials, such as that -- remember that railroad car accident in South Carolina where they had the leakage of the chlorine gas? In many ways, that could have been the functional equivalent of a security incident. Many of the things that you would do to make sure that hazardous materials move safely, you would also do to make sure those hazardous materials are handled well from a security point of view, also. That's a big growing area. All departments of government are going to be facing it.

Mr. Kim: Ken, related to these challenges that the Department of Transportation has identified, in your latest report, you focused on the Department's key strategic goals to improve transportation safety, capacity, and efficiency. Can you give us some highlights in each category, please?

Mr. Mead: Sure. In the area of transportation safety, we have the reduction of operational errors. Operational errors are where planes come too close in the sky as a result of an error by an air traffic controller. They have been on the upswing. When you have two planes converging at high speeds and they get too close, that is not something that you want to see happen. So that was one that we emphasized, and I'm happy to say that the agency is responding and taking corrective action.

In the areas of capacity and efficiency, we're very concerned with the capacity of the aviation system, not just on the ground -- on the ground is one issue -- but when you get to an airport like Chicago O'Hare, it's not just an on-the-ground issue, it's also an in-the-air issue; where you have to redesign airspace so you can accommodate the growing number of aircraft. Those are a couple of areas. Another one is, let me come back to the protecting the investment. I think that we can get more value from our investments in highway infrastructure, not just in the way of relieving traffic congestion, but maybe doing jobs in a more timely and cost effective way.

Mr. Kim: We understand that the casualties from aviation-related crashes each year are relatively small, but you have some concerns about ensuring that FAA adjusts its oversight to current trends in the industry. What are some of those concerns?

Mr. Mead: Well, the airlines particularly have been trying to reduce their costs, in many cases, successfully. They're not where they want to be yet, and you'll find that the older, established carriers are usually the ones that you see -- they're not called low cost carriers yet, but they're trying to lower their costs to be like the lower cost carriers. And that way, they can, in theory, have their fares cover their costs, which they're not doing now.

So when that happens, how do you lower your costs? Well, one way they lower their costs is they take the maintenance, which they have been doing in-house, and they decide let's outsource it to what they call third-party repair stations. Third-party repair stations are very respectable; they do good work, but FAA needs to change its management of what it's inspecting, because if you kept focus on your inspectors, on in-house maintenance, you'd find that you're not getting a holistic look at how the airline is maintaining its planes. So we identified this as an issue for FAA to adjust its own management of how it oversees the airlines, by covering more repair stations and covering in-house maintenance as well. So that's one example.

I can go on. You have the development of microjets. Do you know that in about a year and a quarter, year and a half, you're going to find that you can buy a jet for about a million dollars? It'll be about a four-person jet. That's not a reasonable price, but it's a lot more reasonable than $8 million, $10 million, and it becomes more affordable, particularly if groups of people get together and buy such a plane. But then the question becomes, well, you have to make sure these people are going to be certified pilots; they're going to have to be safe, and I think we'll have greater numbers of pilots, and newer planes, so I think that's going to be an emerging safety issue.

Mr. Kim: If we could shift our focus to more the ground transportation, we understand that more than 40,000 people die each year on the nation's highways. What are some of the recommendations your agency has made to improve highway safety?

Mr. Mead: Well, let's take seatbelts. There's a strong correlation between transportation safety on the highways and people that are wearing their seatbelts, and how do you get greater seatbelt enforcement? Well, one way is to have the police officer have some power to stop cars for no reason other than that they suspect someone is not wearing a seatbelt. So we've really been pushing stronger enforcement of seatbelt laws. And of course, we can make these recommendations, but it's the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that has to implement them, and they have been doing so. And I think they've been doing a pretty good job, and so have the states, and it's showing up. You know, as traffic volumes increase, you would think, gee -- you would expect to see more traffic deaths, but actually, the fatality rate has dropped slightly, and we're at about the same arithmetical, absolute number of deaths that we've had in the past. It's still too high, but that still represents an achievement when you have increasing traffic.

Another one has to do with motorcycle helmets, but it's very controversial. It's become an issue of -- maybe this is too much "Big Brother-ism" to tell people they have to wear motorcycle helmets, and so a number of states have chosen not to. And I think it's a judgment that obviously the state's going to make, but you have to recognize what the consequences of that judgment are going to be, particularly if you get somebody that's in a motorcycle accident, experiences head trauma; that could be very many years, and that could be very, very costly.

Alcohol-impaired driving is another one. The states have taken a much more aggressive posture here. We've been encouraging that. Certainly the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has done so, and they are making progress. Again, you're not there at the end state. Another one -- this one is extremely intriguing. You'll recall when they had the Firestone incident a few years ago, where these tires were coming off? Well, Congress passed a law that said -- the thrust of this law was to get the government more in a proactive role to identify these defects before there were lots of injuries and lots of deaths, and it required Detroit and other manufacturers to report to the Department of Transportation when they started to get complaints or safety problems, or identifying for warranty claims, or lawsuits were filed. And so the Department of Transportation, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has been developing this system, they call it the TREAD Act System, and it's proactively identifying defects in surface transportation vehicles, and I think it's a very positive development, and we've been very involved in that.

Mr. Lawrence: Air travel continues to present management challenges to all involved, both the public and government. What can and should be done?

We'll ask Ken Mead, the Department of Transportation's Inspector General, about the issues confronting the FAA 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 Kenneth Mead, the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

And joining us in our conversation is Young Kim.

Well, Ken, you talked earlier about the Department of Transportation and the importance of the FAA, and you talked about some of the safety issues, but I'd like to focus on sort of the FAA's other function, which is moving planes through the system. And you mentioned the delays over Christmas that was pretty high profile, but it does seem like the delays are getting worse. I'd be interested in your perspective on this.

Mr. Mead: Well, they are. Let's take Christmas first. What happened at Christmastime had very little to do with a capacity of the system problem. I have to put the things that happened at Christmastime in Philadelphia and Cincinnati, which really did inconvenience hundreds of thousands of people, to say nothing of their luggage, and of the inconvenience for not getting home for Christmas, at least in time for Christmas. And then there are capacity problems.

Well, let me take on the Christmas problems first. What happened in Philadelphia was, essentially, you have a carrier, USAir, trying to emerge from bankruptcy. It had done various staff cuts for its baggage handlers, its flight attendants, and had plans on how to deal with what they saw as staff shortages of baggage handlers, and they were going to have them work more overtime. They had made adjustments to flight attendants' schedules, and these plans didn't work. And you couple that with the weather, and the very heavy traffic period, and you have meltdown, which is what happened in Philadelphia.

In Comair's situation in Cincinnati -- and Comair is a wholly-owned Delta subsidiary -- they had bad weather, one of the worst ice storms, and they used regional jets in Cincinnati. Well, regional jets, unlike the big jets, they get stuck in the ice, and when you get six inches of ice, as they did have there, you couldn't back up the planes, so they had that problem. And finally -- and lots of people getting delayed, inconvenienced, so forth, as a result of that -- but there's a limited amount that Delta or Comair could have done for the situation with the ice. But then once the weather started getting better, they started rescheduling the flights on their flight computer, and it turned out that the flight computer just stopped working. And the reason it did is because it had a built-in transaction limit of 32,000 a month, and once you reached that limit, you couldn't do any more transactions with your computer.

Well, Comair didn't know that there was this built-in time bomb in their computer, so to speak, so the computer just crashed, and then it got worse over the -- you know, for I think, the 25th -- the 25th was a total -- they cancelled everything because they didn't really have the computer capability. Well, that was a strong lesson learned, but that was a Christmas holiday problem.

The real problem in this system today is one of modernizing our air traffic control system, building runways, using our airspace better, all with the view of increasing the capacity. Airline travel is very reasonably priced today; as a matter of fact, the average ticket today in 2005 is cheaper than it was in the year 2000. Let me share with you a couple of numbers: the year 2000 is kind of -- most people view the year 2000, especially the summer of 2000, as the worst ever. The year of gridlock; it was a terrible summer. Every night on the nightly news there were stories about people getting delayed for hours and total gridlock in the aviation system.

So that was the year you don't ever want to go back to. Well, let me tell you where we are. In the year 2000, about 24 percent of the flights were delayed, average delay about 48 minutes. First few months of 2005, percent of flights delayed, 25 percent; average delay, 49 minutes. We've had a lot of bad weather this winter, but these numbers are ticking up. Back to the benchmark of the year 2000: what's happening in the system, the number of flights is back up to where they were in the year 2000. The number of what they call enplanements, that's passengers, that's getting back up there, too. You have a lot of additional smaller jets in the system that you didn't have back in the year 2000.

A lot of the larger airplanes, they're parked in the desert, and the airlines are using these smaller planes now, called regional jets, so they've been providing information for those. But all those dynamics together, operating together, are causing capacity problems, and it is a strong reason why we deal with the capacity issues in the aviation system.

Mr. Kim: We recognize that there are many factors that contributed to delays, like you mentioned the seasonal volume fluctuations and weather, certainly, but can we expand the capacity of the national airspace system to handle more flights?

Mr. Mead: Why, sure. And there's two ways of doing it, really: one is through additional runways, and another way is through the more efficient use of the airspace. Much of the design of the airspace, the use of the airspace in the United States today, was designed years ago, and it can be used more efficiently. And FAA has a number of initiatives underway to try to redesign it. The question is, can they redesign it in time to avoid this type of gridlock.

Also, you know, it's important for the listening audience to know that a big precept of our system is deregulation. It's where the government no longer regulates affairs; it no longer tells you where you can go -- where airlines can fly, at least domestically. And so when you have a situation like we do at Chicago O'Hare in Illinois, which is one of the busiest airports, of course, in the world, the government has imposed caps on the numbers of flights that can go in and out of there. Well, why has the government done that? The government did that because last year, in 2004, the airlines were scheduling so many flights out of Chicago O'Hare to meet the economic market demand there that the system couldn't handle them.

And so the Department of Transportation first asked the airlines would you do this, would you voluntarily cut back? Well, the airlines responded to some degree, but it didn't work. The Department of Transportation came back again and said, hey, look at these delay figures, this is terrible -- you've got to cut back. They did a little bit; it didn't work. The third time last year, the Department made some strong suggestions to the airlines, and basically directed that they place some caps. Well, caps on numbers of flights don't square well in a G-regulated system, because it's like the government interfering with the marketplace.

So you'll notice that Chicago O'Hare has for years been proposing an expansion program to build some runways. It's been caught up in all types of controversy, and the environmental process and so forth. I think this year is going to be a benchmark year for Chicago O'Hare. Some decisions are expected in September, I believe, as to whether or not they've cleared the environmental process. So that's a long-winded way of saying that the capacity problems have to be dealt with both in the air and on the ground.

Finally, there are some places like LaGuardia Airport, outside of New York, that -- you can't expand on LaGuardia. There's no way you're going to expand it. There are only so many planes you can put there, period. There's nothing you're going to be able to do from a technology standpoint; there's nothing you're going to be able to do from a standpoint of adding more runways. In places like LaGuardia, the government needs to consider whether a market-driven solution is appropriate, or how to allocate that space, because you're always going to be in the business of having not enough space at LaGuardia Airport.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, that's interesting.

We've focused on the different modes of transportation, but haven't really touched on Amtrak.

We'll ask Ken Mead, the Department of Transportation's Inspector General, to give us his perspectives on the management challenges Amtrak faces 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 Kenneth Mead, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

And joining us in our conversation is Young Kim.

Well, Ken, you've identified the top issues that are facing the Department of sort of an overarching nature. Could you tell us about these?

Mr. Mead: Why, sure. I put them in four buckets, actually. One bucket would be transportation security. A second bucket would be transportation safety. We've gotten a lot of the low-hanging fruit, and now we need a much more targeted approach to transportation safety, and a lot of progress has been made in the last four or five years, but we're not at an end state yet.

Third area, stewardship and oversight of federal funds, making sure that we stretch the taxpayer dollar as far as we possibly can, through more efficient practices, less fraud, waste, and abuse. And the final area that I think is a particularly apropos for the time, not just for Transportation, but for other agencies as well, we're in a period now where we have a significant federal deficit, which means we are spending more money than we are taking in.

In Transportation, that's especially a problem, because we're funded mostly by trust funds, and the trust funds, for example, in the aviation area, are not yielding the amount of money that was projected. You might think that's strange, because as I said earlier, there's more flights, there's more people, so what gives; why aren't we making more money? Well, the reason is because the tax structure essentially is 7.5 percent of your ticket price, and tickets are of a lesser price, and so the yield is not what was projected. And at the same time, there's not surplus federal money lying around, and so it's going to behoove the Department of Transportation to both look at the ways it raises money as well as the way that it can more efficiently run its programs. So those are the four buckets and the four major overarching issues I think we have to pay attention to.

Mr. Lawrence: Just in terms of -- I don't expect you to go into solutions -- are those decade-long problems to solve, or how do you think about them in terms of how they'll be worked out?

Mr. Mead: Well, they'll always certainly always be issues. Security will always be an issue; safety will always be an issue. It's a question of degree. And I think the complexion of the specific issue; for example, in safety, can change. A few years ago, we were very concerned about aging aircraft. Today, I think we have largely a handle on the aging aircraft problem, but there are new emerging safety problems in rail, motor carrier vehicles, and so forth. And we just have to stay on the edge of the envelope and tackle all those problems.

Mr. Kim: Ken, we've touched on some aviation and some highway transportation, but we haven't touched on the Amtrak part of the Department of Transportation. FAA spending is on your watch list, and so is Amtrak. The Department did not request any operating subsidies for Amtrak this year. Can you talk about some of the problems Amtrak has faced over the years?

Mr. Mead: Yes, I can. And the administration's budget request I think was more of a call to reach a solution to the Amtrak problem, the inner city passenger rail problem. This is the basic problem: Amtrak does not make enough money, does not get enough money from the Congress, and in combination of what it makes from passengers, there is not enough money to run a railroad system the size of Amtrak's, and in the manner that Amtrak is running it. So we have to decide first and foremost what type of inner city passenger rail system we want, and then we need to fund it.

It is a myth to think that rail travel is going to somehow fund itself. It is a reality that we must face. I think this year will be a similar year in the judgments that are made about inner city passenger rail. I personally think inner city passenger rail has a strong future in this country, but the current manner in which we're pursuing it needs to be reconsidered, or refined, and then it needs to be adequately funded.

Mr. Lawrence: Ken, as I read your bio, I can tell you've spent your whole career in public service, much of it as being Inspector General. So I'm just curious, sort of a twofold question, what advice you'd give to somebody interested in being a public servant, in a career in public service, and even becoming Inspector General?

Mr. Mead: Well, I am a career public servant, and I started out in the legal department of what's now the General Accountability Office, and today, I like to meet with every new person on my staff, and it's kind of the highlight of my day to hear what their ambitions are, what their inspirations are, and to share with them what I think a career in the federal government is all about. You can at a very young age have enormous impact on a wide range of issues; probably broader, in truth, than you can in a private sector job at that age. You're not going to get rich working for the federal government; you won't starve either. But you can have an enormous impact, and that's what really excites me about working for the federal government, is the impact you can have on issues, and just make life better for everybody. And I think the opportunities are kind of endless there. So I encourage people to consider a career in the federal government, particularly when they're young, when they can afford it.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you, Ken. Young and I want to thank you for squeezing us into your busy schedule and joining us this morning.

Mr. Mead: Thank you. If you have a chance, you might give us a call at (202) 366-1959, or go to our webpage, www.oigdot.gov -- the word dot-- .gov.

Mr. Lawrence: Great. Thank you, Ken.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Kenneth Mead, the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

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

For The Business of Government Radio Hour, I'm Paul Lawrence.

Thank you for listening.

Kenneth M. Mead interview
04/23/2005
"One of our top management challenges in the aviation, highway, and rail area is transportation safety. There is still a long way to go with new emerging safety issues. We just have to stay on the edge and tackle all of those problems."

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University of Maryland
12/04/2017
Jeanne Liedtka
Professor of Business Administration
University of Virginia