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.

Linda J. Washington interview

Friday, March 14th, 2008 - 20:00
Phrase: 
Linda J. Washington
Radio show date: 
Sat, 03/15/2008
Intro text: 
Managing for Performance and Results; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships; Leadership; Organizational Transformation...

Managing for Performance and Results; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships; Leadership; Organizational Transformation

Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Originally Broadcast March 15, 2008

Washington, D.C.

Announcer: Welcome to The Business of Government Hour, a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. The Business of Government Hour is produced by The IBM Center for The Business of Government, which was created 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.

And now, The Business of Government Hour.

Mr. Morales: Good morning. I'm Albert Morales, your host, and managing partner of The IBM Center for The Business of Government.

The quality of our lives, the shape of our communities, and the productivity of our nation's economy rests on the existence of a safe, secure, and efficient transportation system. Today, the U.S. Department of Transportation stands at the forefront, promoting an efficient and interconnected national transportation system. The success of such a critical mission requires a department to effectively manage the administration of its resources and its workforce.

With us this morning to discuss her efforts in this area is our special guest, Linda Jacobs Washington, Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Good morning, Linda.

Ms. Washington: Good morning, Al.

Mr. Morales: Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer, director in IBM's Federal Civilian Industry Practice.

Good morning, Pete.

Mr. Boyer: Good morning, Al.

Mr. Morales: Linda, let's start off by learning a bit more about the organization. Many of our listeners are probably familiar with the U.S. Department of Transportation, but can you give us a sense of its overall history and its mission?

Ms. Washington: I would be happy to. And as you mentioned in your opening remarks, Al, there's no citizen who is not affected by transportation. Everyone who takes a bus or a Metro to work, who buys groceries or drives on a highway, flies in a plane or rides a train does so because DOT is doing its job.

The Department of Transportation was established by an act of Congress, and signed into law by President Johnson in October 1966. It's first Secretary, Alan Boyd, took office in January 1967, and the Department's first official day of operation was April 1, 1967. Now, no April Fools jokes, you guys. In fact, we've just celebrated our 40th anniversary.

And as you mentioned, our mission, it's really pretty simple, because we're charged with supporting a national transportation system, which is the most complex, and by the way, the best system in the world.

Ms. Washington: Sure. The Department has a budget of more than $67 billion, with a staff of about 54,000 men and women. Most of those men and women are air traffic controllers. And we're organized by modes, which is a great definition of the different organizations within the Department of Transportation, because "modes" stand for the modes of transportation: planes and boats and trains and trucks, rails and highways and airways. In fact, we have employees all over the world, including right now staff who are helping to rebuild the Iraqi transportation system.

Mr. Boyer: Linda, now that you've provided us with a sense of the Department, could you tell us more about your role? Specifically, what are your responsibilities and duties as the Assistant Secretary for Administration at DOT? And could you tell us about the areas under your purview, how you're organized, and the size of your staff and your budget?

Ms. Washington: Sure. As the Assistant Secretary for Administration, I have a great responsibility, because I manage all of the supporting infrastructure, everything but IT, and that includes human resources, procurement, security, printing and graphics, photographic services, transit benefits, facilities, and building management. So it's my job, quite frankly, to make sure that the heat and the lights are on, that the security guards are in place, and that the staff in the building is safe.

I have a staff of 212 employees that work with a cadre of contractors, with a budget of a little more than $400 million.

Mr. Boyer: Regarding your responsibilities and duties, what are the three most significant challenges that you face in this position, and how have you addressed these challenges?

Ms. Washington: You know, that's an easy but a difficult question. The most difficult challenge had wonderful results, however. As you know, we recently moved into our new headquarters facility at the Southeast Federal Center, which is right next door to the Navy Yard and the new Nationals baseball stadium. I was responsible for overseeing the construction, the build-out, and the employee move. This was an 11-year project, over 3 years of construction, and an 11-week move period. Now, I have to tell you, moving 5,600 people with all of their stuff over 11 weeks was no walk in the park. So that has probably been one of my biggest recent challenges. We met it, but it involved a lot of logistical planning and relationship-building with our contractors to get it done.

Now, another challenge that I had, and I didn't really think it was a challenge at the time, but I was holding three jobs: I was serving as two Deputy Assistant Secretaries and the acting Assistant Secretary for Administration simultaneously for two years. The good thing is that I had, and continue to have, a very capable staff who are self-directed and who provide good counsel. So this allowed me to focus my efforts on the big picture, with the knowledge that everything else was under control.

And now, here we are in an election year, and the huge challenge is what we call transition. So in less than 300 days, we will have a new administration. We will be transitioning outgoing leaders and transitioning incoming leaders. Now, while that may seem to you like an easy task, I have to tell you, it requires enormous planning, logistics, teamwork, and diplomacy. But after building a cabinet-level headquarters building, I have to tell you, I think this is going to be a piece of cake.

Mr. Morales: That's great. Linda, I understand that you spent some time at Xerox and at the Library of Congress before coming over to DOT. Could you describe your career path for our listeners and what brought you to the federal government?

Ms. Washington: Sure. I began my career with the Xerox Corporation, where I held numerous sales and marketing and management positions. And the last position I held was in management with Xerox Business Services. I will tell you, at Xerox, I was fortunate enough to receive a wealth of management training that provided me invaluable skills for my career.

And then an opportunity presented itself to work for the federal government. I wasn't looking to leave Xerox, but a friend of mine sent me a posting for a senior position at the Library of Congress. So I decided to apply because it was interesting, and I was hired. And again, I wasn't looking to leave Xerox, but I thought, gee, my education and training background was a very natural transition for me from the private sector to the public sector. My first position at the Library of Congress was as the chief of the Photo Duplication Service, which was a fee-for-service operation. And of course, having come from Xerox and with looking at the bottom line and ensuring that we had a profitable organization, this was a good transition for me.

However, within one year, after being successful in that position, I was asked to take on the position as director of Integrated Support Services. This position included management of contracts and logistics, printing and mail operations, health and safety services, facility operations -- again, the supporting structure of the Library of Congress. However, I was also the Library's designated agency safety and health official, or what we call in the federal government DASHO. And I was responsible for managing critical incidences, including the September 11th and anthrax scares.

One accomplishment at the Library of Congress that I am very proud of is that I started the Library's "Internal University," which provided training and education programs for the more than 4,000 employees there. I have a bachelor's and master's degree in education. I'm also a trained facilitator, so this program was very dear to me as we worked to improve training for the Library staff. I was fortunate to implement a Library-wide training program entitled "Facilitative Leadership," which empowered staff to work together to make decisions.

So we go forward and here in May of 2003, I joined the Department of Transportation as one of the two Deputy Assistant Secretaries for Administration. Now, this gave me an opportunity to use what I'd learned at the Library of Congress to manage the same types of programs I was managing there, but on a much larger scale.

Then in May of 2007, I was selected by the Secretary and approved by the President as the Assistant Secretary for Administration, and here we are today.

Mr. Morales: That's a fantastic story. So as you reflect back upon your career, both at Xerox and at the Library of Congress, how have these experiences prepared you for your current leadership role, and how has it shaped your management approach and perhaps your leadership style?

Ms. Washington: Well, you know, as a manager and a leader, I really have an inclusive approach to management. I believe that everyone has something to offer, so all stakeholders should be involved in the decision-making process whenever possible. And Xerox provided me with excellent management skills, so I feel, quite frankly, I can manage anything. If I have the subject matter experts working with me, I can put the process in place to manage anything. I have the ability to identify the right people, and then I leave them alone to do what they do. I truly believe in this concept of facilitative leadership.

You know, when I sit in my living room with a half-dozen friends, I hear more than six different opinions to whatever we're discussing. That's valuable and powerful stuff, and I like to bring that same inclusiveness to the workplace. I just like to get a bunch of folks around a table in the office and beat the idea up, challenge each other and come up with a better idea than any of us would have ever had alone.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic.

What about Transportation's human capital strategy? We will ask Linda Jacobs Washington, Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Linda Jacobs Washington, Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Also joining us in our conversation from IBM is Pete Boyer.

Linda, I'd like to discuss human capital management and DOT's performance in the President's Management Agenda. Could you elaborate on your efforts to getting to green? And what challenges did DOT have to overcome to get to this level, and what does the Department need to do to sustain this overall green rating?

Ms. Washington: Well, Al, I have to tell you that I am really proud of all of DOT's human resources staff, who helped us to get to green in human capital. In fact, we have Kermit the Frog sitting in my office as a recognition that we did get to green.

The first thing that we realized was that DOT's planning and management of human resources needed to be more strategic. And it was quite a challenge, if you think about this, because our department is decentralized by statute in funding and operations -- we have 10 operating modes. So one of the biggest challenges was bringing everyone together so that we could have consensus and consistency.

We got to green in June 2004. In our human capital program, we share best practices, we network, we integrate programs, we identify leadership champions to strive for a one-DOT focus. And that's our overall theme, one-DOT, because we realize that resources are limited, and so we wanted everybody to work together for the betterment of the human capital program. And I'll tell you, it's very basic as to what we need to continue to do, and that's what we've done in the past: continue with the strategic focus, continue to work together. I mean, it's a simple strategy, but it's one that works.

Mr. Morales: So along similar lines, can you give us an overview of DOT's human capital strategy and how the strategy aligns and complements the Department's mission and goals and the organizational objectives?

Ms. Washington: Absolutely. You know, when DOT issued a strategic plan, we at the same time issued our strategic human capital plan. It sort of makes sense, doesn't it? So what we do in human capital then is directly linked to the Department's missions and goals. Through department-wide efforts and specific input from leadership, there is unprecedented emphasis on human capital. Let me give you an example.

Under our DOT environmental stewardship strategic goal, the human capital strategy is to ensure we hire individuals with skills in the areas of energy, environment, urban and regional planning, economic development, environmental sciences and environmental law. So we're doing that through -- in support of each one of the strategic goals from the Department.

Mr. Boyer: Linda, in a similar vein, could you tell us about DOT's efforts to develop and implement a department-wide performance management system which aligns employee performance expectation with organizational goals and objectives, and also addresses poor performance?

Ms. Washington: Sure. With the advent of the President's Management Agenda in 2002, we established a performance management task force in DOT, with representatives from all of the operating administrations. We asked them to devise an improvement strategy and to benchmark best practices to develop a work environment based on good performance. Using that task force, we revised the Department's performance management and awards and recognition programs. We also mandated supervisory training that included performance expectations, performance distinctions, and identifying and dealing with poor performers, and then we held managers accountable for the same.

Now, you know, really poor performers are a challenge to any organization, and we recognized that most managers are typically trained in leadership skills, but not how to deal with poor performers, and it's not easy to deal with poor performers. You know, I used to say if you don't get butterflies in your stomach when you're having a tough conversation with someone or you're trying to hold someone accountable, then you're not really caring about the individual. So we want to care about the individual, but also deal with them and to help them and to coach them into being a good performer.

Another challenge we had is that we moved from a pass/fail performance rating system to a five-tiered performance rating system. And that way, we could recognize top performing staff and identify employees that need additional coaching. Now, you can imagine that for years, we had a pass/fail system and now we're going to five tiers, which really delineates your performance. That was a challenge to get the employees to buy in on that. We're there now and we're continuing to work through that.

The Secretary has also been involved, and she's been instrumental in keeping a focus on our leadership performance culture. She highlighted performance management in a video broadcast to employees in the Federal Human Capital Survey, and she endorsed our best practices forum in which the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration addressed approximately 200 senior leaders and employees on improving the performance management program, linking recognition with performance and dealing with poor performance.

So basically, what is this thing called "performance management culture?" Well, it's everything that we do, and it's everything that we do has to be focused on performance, and that makes sense. If we're to reach our goals, we have to have optimum performance from all of our employees.

Mr. Boyer: Excellent. Now, could you tell us about your succession planning model? Specifically, what are the measures of success for the leadership planning model, and what are some of the critical factors impacting DOT's succession planning approach?

Ms. Washington: Well, DOT is like every other agency and probably like many private sector organizations. We know that the baby boomers are approaching retirement, and we have heard that over and over again. In fact, experts say that 50 percent of our federal workforce is eligible for retirement in the next five years. So with this information, our succession plan identifies key positions that are critical to DOT. We assessed the skill sets needed for our current and future operations, and then identified training needs. We developed a long-term approach, using mentoring and rotational assignments, and we give opportunities to our current staff for cross-training.

Based on the Department's workforce analyses and strategic human capital planning, we developed a succession management guide called, officially, "The Departmental Leadership Succession Planning Model."

Mr. Morales: Is there an acronym for that?

Ms. Washington: No, please, no more acronyms. The objective of this model is to ensure a continuous pipeline, a DOT term, of internal and external talent for leadership positions at all levels. The critical factors that impact DOT's succession planning are leadership commitment and accountability, including a communications strategy because we know that communication is key, because we want to create awareness and maintain a vision of succession planning throughout the Department. At DOT, we believe that filling the leadership pipeline depends on current leaders taking responsibility for developing their potential successors.

Mr. Boyer: On a related topic, what is the Transportation Career Residency Program? And to what extent is this program designed to provide a developmental vehicle for DOT and its future leaders, and expand entry-level hiring for DOT in mission-critical occupations?

Ms. Washington: You know, it sounds like a big task. However, I'll make this very simple. The Department's Transportation Career Residency Program started in 2005. And this is simply a vehicle for managers to hire the next generation into mission-critical occupations. So with 36 percent of DOT's senior leaders eligible to retire, this program simply allows us to be proactive in developing employees who will have the skills to fill those shoes. Career residents get on-the-job training and classroom training. They area also required to participate in rotational assignments with the operating administrations in our department. And I'll tell you, I've hired three in my organization and they are excellent additions to my staff, so the program is really working, and I can give a personal testament to that.

Mr. Morales: Linda, along similar lines, it's well-known that the competition for talent hits both the federal government as well as the private sector sort of equally. So what changes are you making to the recruitment process over at DOT? And does the agency use flexible compensation strategies to help attract and retain employees who might possess these mission-critical skills that you talk about, such as engineering, safety, and project management?

Ms. Washington: You know, we have enhanced our recruitment efforts to educate those interested in joining DOT, because we want to make people aware of the many opportunities available at our agency. It's an exciting place to work. You know, in a survey of college students released by the Partnership for Public Service, only 13 percent of them were knowledgeable about government jobs. However, an overwhelming 70 percent were more likely to consider a career in government after speaking to a recruiter or a professor. That's why we are putting so much emphasis on recruiting.

In fact, I was just at a recruiting panel out at George Mason University, and it was great interfacing with the students there. But so, folks at my level are also reaching out and being a part of the recruitment effort. Everyone in DOT has a responsibility and plays a role in the recruitment of new employees.

You know, we're also taking advantage of the compensation flexibilities available to federal agencies to attract and also retain quality employees. Now, guys, I have to tell you, I'm going to put in a little plug here. If any of your listening audience is interested in a career at the center of one of America's greatest resources -- transportation -- and a career that combines personal growth and opportunity with vital national importance, visit our careers website at www.careers.dot.gov. We're looking for motivated people with new ideas, people who want to make a difference to ensure our transportation system combines our efforts and continues to lead the world in that area.

Mr. Morales: Well, I'm going to choose my words carefully here, but in general, younger employees tend to have different attitudes, behaviors, and expectations around their careers, and certainly around the workplace. Overall, they tend to be a bit more flexible, there's a higher incidence of them moving, and therefore, there is an expectation that they may change employers or jobs several times in their careers. And they're also looking for more flexibility from their employers and greater support in the workplace.

Could you elaborate on DOT's efforts to meet this sort of challenge with this new and younger workforce?

Ms. Washington: I would love to, and that's a wonderful question. I'm glad you asked it. We've listened to younger employees at DOT. One priority for them is balancing work life, as you mentioned. We offer work schedules with flexible arrival and departure times, and shortened work weeks. We have a great telecommuting program that allows our employees to work from home. You know, this is a win-win for everyone. It helps us meet our national goal of reducing congestion, and it allows employees more time in their private lives.

Another priority is the work environment, and we are so proud of our new headquarters building. It has a fabulous nine-story atrium, flooded with natural light to conserve energy. It has a wonderful open-office environment that promotes and supports greater interaction. And you know what? Health and safety are also priorities. So we have a state-of-the-art fitness center, a world-class cafeteria, and 21st century ergonomic furniture. Our new facility was the first cabinet-level agency building built post-September 11th, and offers us a secure building which is reflected in the design and construction.

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic.

What steps has DOT taken to improve the management of its real property? We will ask Linda Washington, Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Linda Washington, Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Also joining us in our conversation is Pete Boyer, director in IBM's Federal Civilian Industry Practice.

Linda, earlier, you talked a little bit about the recent move to the new headquarters building and the lead role that you played in that. Could you just elaborate a little bit more on this effort? What were some of the benefits of the move? And more importantly, what were some of the lessons learned from this big move?

Ms. Washington: As most of your listeners probably know, DOT was located in L'Enfant Plaza for nearly 40 years, 38 years to be exact. So you can imagine the changes that some of us had to go through. Now, I wasn't there for 38 years, but moving to the new headquarters building was a challenge. We decided to take it as an opportunity. And I know that sounds sort of cliche-ish, but we really did look at as an opportunity, because it was an opportunity to bring most of the Department's employees together in a new environment post-September the 11th, and it's just a fabulous building.

So we had to work with hundreds of contractors, we had to work with all of the staff, and it had to be a coordinated effort. Now, if I can say to you one of the things that the best lessons learned was on planning. Planning, planning, planning, planning, planning. I will say to you that you need to get an early start and you need to keep planning. You have to have ongoing meetings. Now -- and when you think you've planned it all, you need to plan some more. And you must get everyone involved, and we tried to do that.

And I will tell you that the staff at DOT exceeded our expectations and really rose to the occasion. And we tried to instill the sense of they were making -- they were part of a groundbreaking effort here, in more ways than one, so communication was the key. We held pre-move meetings. We held weekly meetings, monthly meetings. And after we moved into the building, I also conducted town hall meetings to say, okay, how did things go, but also to thank the many folks who contributed to the success of the move.

So while it was a challenge, the results were wonderful.

Mr. Morales: Let me switch gears here for a moment, Linda. Given the composition of the Department, and earlier, you talked a little bit about the modal model, so to speak, of the bureaus, there must be opportunities to employ a shared services model for the various non-mission-related functions. Could you elaborate on how the Department approaches the use of shared services? And more specifically, what non-mission-critical services or functions are performed at the Department level, and which are performed at the operating administration levels?

Ms. Washington: You know, we really embrace the idea of shared services. We know that that is the best use of the taxpayers' dollars in providing support to the Department of Transportation, and any government agency, quite frankly. So we offer a variety of shared services at DOT. These include human resources, procurement, mail, printing and graphics, photographic services, multimedia services, and a security guard force that protects all of DOT staff and facilities. When you can bring groups of people together to make a major buy, you can certainly save money, but it also helps you look at what the needs of the organization are, plan for those needs and so that you don't have redundancy, and again, so that you're saving money.

So it goes without saying that we're constantly looking for ways to save taxpayers' money through economies of scale and shared resources to deliver the most efficient and cost-effective services. And then we leave the policy development to the different modes within DOT. So as the Assistant Secretary for Administration, I again provide the supporting infrastructure, and through that, shared services that makes sense to support DOT.

Mr. Morales: That's great. So it's a collaborative effort with the organizations.

Ms. Washington: Absolutely.

Mr. Boyer: Linda, competitive sourcing is about competition to enhance business results within government agencies, as it promotes innovation, efficiency, and greater effectiveness. In the last OMB scorecard, DOT received a yellow rating in the competitive sourcing area of the PMA. Could you tell us about your department's efforts in those areas, and what lessons have you learned from efforts?

Ms. Washington: Well, let me explain, first of all, what competitive sourcing is. You know, we liken it to outsourcing, which translates to really identifying the most cost-effective and efficient way of doing business. Now, that sounds a little basic, but that's exactly what it is. How do you provide the service in the best way? So I work directly with the DOT leadership to ensure that competitive sourcing is used as a strategic management tool. Again, we want to do what makes sense.

I will tell you that the Department of Transportation maintained green status in competitive sourcing from June 2004 through March of 2007. You know, during that time, DOT completed competitions for an estimated total savings of $2.3 billion through 2015. We at DOT hold the record for the largest amount of estimated savings for all civilian agencies for our competitive sourcing efforts.

Also, in 2006, we were honored to receive the President's Quality Award for our competitive sourcing program. We're putting in place right now some other competitions for this fiscal year that will get us in the green status again, and we're looking for greater successes and greater savings.

Mr. Boyer: Increasing transit ridership is an important component of the National Strategy for Reducing Congestion. Could you tell us about the Federal Transit Benefit Program and how it helps to increase the use of mass transit? And more specifically, what is TranServ, and how is it helping to ensure the program serves its intended purposes?

Ms. Washington: You know, there's not a single American who is not affected by congestion. It keeps us from our families, it increases stress, and it diminishes our quality of life. In the 10 most congested areas, which include, by the way, the Metropolitan D.C. area, congestion costs commuters as much as $1,600 in lost time and fuel each

After safety, reducing congestion is our number one initiative. Mass transit ridership nationwide is an important component of the National Strategy to Reduce Congestion. The Federal Transit Benefit Program has extensive participation in the D.C. area. Currently, program participants are eligible to receive a subsidy of up to $115 per month. TranServ manages this shared services program nationwide, and services over 240,000 participants in 112 federal organizations. This is a big program, more than $220 million annually, and that brings with it big responsibilities. So we have to have tight controls in place to safeguard something that we call "fair media," or the subsidies that we provide to our customers.

Mr. Morales: Linda, I understand that the federal government spends about $300 billion on goods and services each year, and that agencies need to leverage spending to the maximum extent possible through strategic sourcing initiatives. Could you tell us about DOT's efforts in the strategic sourcing area? Specifically, how have you established commodity councils to look at cross-modal or departmental requirements? And what are some of the benefits and challenges associated with these types of initiatives?

Ms. Washington: This is truly an initiative that we believe in. And DOT is a member of the Chief Acquisition Officers Council Strategic Sourcing Working Group. Isn't that a mouthful? However, it is setting the agenda for strategic sourcing across the government.

Now, internally, we're using strategic sourcing tools and techniques to help us buy more rationally. In the area of IT, we recently converted to a consolidated common operating environment, utilizing an enterprise-wide contract from Microsoft Licenses, use spend analysis to support our decision to centrally buy multifunctional printers for the whole building, and we have taken a similar approach to the purchase of all furniture for the building. So we're truly committed to this, and we plan to do more of this in the upcoming years.

Mr. Morales: Linda, you talked earlier about the pending retirement work in government and the baby boomers. So more specifically, what are you seeing within DOT, and what are some of the plans in place, other than the ones that you described earlier, to mitigate these effects?

Ms. Washington: You know, quite frankly, we're anticipating and preparing for our retirement tsunami. Now, that's not Linda Washington's word, that's Linda Springer's word, who is the director of OPM. But I think it adequately describes what the scope of the problem is. Now, if the recent pattern of losses and gains continues, the total DOT workforce currently at 54,000 will decline by about 8 percent over the next four years, largely due to retirements. And the group that is most affected by the retirement tsunami are the senior leaders and program managers. They are retirement-eligible at 36 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

Now, you know, a simple one-for-one replacement strategy doesn't make sense. In order to address this, we must work together to ensure that we are hiring individuals with the right skills, but at the same time, we want to make sure that we're best utilizing the employees we currently have. So we want a combined effort on both fronts: replacing the folks who are retiring by training internal staff, but also bringing in the best and the brightest.

Mr. Morales: That's a lot of both technical and management talent that you risk losing.

Ms. Washington: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely.

Mr. Morales: What does the future hold for the U.S. Department of Transportation?

We will ask Linda Washington, Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation, to share with us when the conversation about management continues on The Business of Government Hour.

(Intermission)

Mr. Morales: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm your host, Albert Morales, and this morning's conversation is with Linda Washington, Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Also joining us in our conversation from IBM is Pete Boyer.

Linda, we talk with many of our guests about collaboration. What kinds of partnerships are you developing now to improve operations or outcomes at DOT, and how might these partnerships change over time?

Ms. Washington: You know, we have several interfaces, and collaborate with many individuals and groups. We have an Administrative Management Council, which I personally chair, which is comprised of senior executives from each of our operating administrations. We collaborate on all types of services that are needed and how we should deliver those services, and we even talk about the cost of those services.

There is also the Human Resources Council, the Procurement Management Council, and we have a Diversity Advisory Council. Each of these groups identifies issues and works together to plan for the future. We also at DOT participate in government-wide councils, such as OPM's Chief Human Capital Officers Council and OMB's Federal Real Property Planning Council. We also recently partnered with the Environmental Protection Agency on a government-wide federal docket management system, and we partner with nonpartisan organizations, such as the Council for Excellence in Government, National Academy of Public Administration, and the Partnership for Public Service.

Mr. Boyer: Linda, would you expand on something we previously mentioned regarding the performance culture at DOT? You talked about the results-oriented culture. Could you tell us a little more about that and some of the modal success stories in forging this performance?

Ms. Washington: That's an excellent question, Pete, and I think it begins with an understanding of how DOT created a performance culture. At DOT, we began by revising our policy. It's the first thing you have to do. And then you have to train the people who are going to be responsible, and those are the managers and supervisors, and then we had to hold them accountable.

We are so proud that OPM recognized some of our operating administrations for best practices. For example, FRA, or the Federal Railroad Administration, has some of the highest Federal Human Capital Survey scores in the government. So they're doing a lot of good things and they're doing it right. So we want to leverage this success throughout DOT and the government.

We are so fortunate that our Secretary, Mary Peters, is personally engaged with performance culture, because she realizes that employees are our most important resource, and our employees appreciate that.

Mr. Boyer: Linda, could you tell us about the Chief Human Capital Council, and specifically your role on its Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness? I know you mentioned some of the work that you had done at the Library of Congress, but what is the mission of this committee, and how does it seek to ensure federal agencies continue operations during emergencies while safeguarding employees?

Ms. Washington: The Chief Human Capital Officers Council is what we refer to as the CHICO Council. And it is made up of chief human capital officers from each of the cabinet-level agencies. The council actually gives us the opportunity to come together as a group with OPM, usually monthly, to share information and work towards improving human capital programs. The last meeting was primarily focused on transition planning, and it was one of the best meetings I have attended, because it allowed everyone to share their knowledge and experiences in dealing with the upcoming transition.

Now, with regard to the Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, I chose to be on this committee because I had previous experience, as you said, Pete, in disaster planning and response, having been involved in the response to September the 11th and the anthrax scare. Also, I took part in responding to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. There were lessons learned that we want to use to plan for the future.

Now, of course, we're planning for responding to the threat of a pandemic. Essentially, we assist, overall, OPM in developing policies and procedures for federal agencies to continue operations in time of crises to be able to respond to any incident. And naturally, care of and accounting for our staff while keeping the government running is our number one priority. We want to have consistency across the government so that we're not being redundant and we're not reinventing the wheel. We want to use things that are already in place so that again, we can use the resources that we have to do a better job and continue to provide for the safety of our employees.

Mr. Morales: Linda, I'd like for you to perhaps look into your crystal ball now. Given the evolution of our national transportation system and infrastructure, how do you envision DOT's human capital and administrative needs evolving over, say, the next three to five years? And how do you envision specifically your department will need to evolve over that same time period?

Ms. Washington: You know, I highly encourage your listeners to consider a career in transportation. DOT offers a wide range of dynamic career opportunities. Financial specialists, program analysts, and transportation specialists are just a part of what we call mission-critical occupations. And they are but a few of the great jobs you might consider in DOT. We also offer the more traditional jobs: doctors, lawyers, graphic artists, budget analysts, and IT folks to name a few.

Now, but let me get to the real question. How much do we pay? Well, let me address some of the myths surrounding federal pay. It is true, the federal government is not as competitive as the private sector starting out. We offer starting salaries between $32,000 and $48,000. But after two years, our entry-level employees earn $48,000 to $70,000 on average. Now, you know, that's a significant increase. And we provide room to grow in both pay and professional development.

Actually, with perhaps a couple of exceptions, government salaries are very competitive. For example, the average salary at DOT is $99,000. So unless you're vying for a position in at a law firm or one of the Big Eight, you should expect to do as well or better with a government career. And there are almost no jobs in the private sector, including law and business, which can match government benefits and retirement packages.

But let's not just focus on salary. Let's talk about stability and making a difference. Recent reports state that one of the most stable industries is government. While the government provides security and stability, it also provides an opportunity for you personally to make a difference. You know, it's more than a career. It's a vocation. You have the opportunity to do something to make others' lives better.

Almost all the studies indicate that young people today want to contribute and to be a part of the team. You know, the average stay in a private-sector job today is less than a year. Less than a year. And, you know, there's a reason. In the private sector, you might join a piece of a project midstream and the funding stops. The project ends and the job is over. In the government, you have opportunities to develop your own project, manage it, and see it to the end and beyond. I know that I see that in what I do every day, because I am providing the infrastructure which is necessary to support one of the most critical industries in this country, and quite frankly, in the world. I am providing service to my country and making a difference.

George Washington Carver, the African-American inventor, took this very seriously when he stated, "No individual has any right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it."

Mr. Morales: That's fantastic. That's perhaps the best plug I have heard for the federal government. That's fantastic, Linda.

Unfortunately, we have reached the end of our time here. I do want to thank you for fitting us into your busy schedule. But more importantly, Pete and I would like to thank you for your dedicated service to our country across the various roles that you have held in the federal government.

Ms. Washington: Thank you so much, Al and Pete. It's been a pleasure to be here. And as you know, I am passionate about what I do, and particularly for the Department of Transportation. I work with a wonderful group of people. I'm fortunate to support a Secretary and a Deputy Secretary who are devoted to helping the American people, but also the staff of the Department of Transportation. So I appreciate the opportunity to share about what I do, but also I encourage all of your listeners to apply for jobs within the federal government. We want you and we need you for the future of this country, so thank you very much.

Mr. Morales: Great. Thank you, Linda.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Linda Jacobs Washington, Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

My co-host has been Pete Boyer, director in IBM's Federal Civilian Industry Practice.

As you enjoy the rest of your day, please take time to remember the men and women of our armed and civil services abroad who may not be able to hear this morning's show on how we're improving their government, but who deserve our unconditional respect and support.

For The Business of Government Hour, I'm Albert Morales. Thank you for listening.

Announcer: This has been The Business of Government Hour

Be sure to join us every Saturday at 9:00 a.m., and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There, you can learn more about our programs and get a transcript of today's conversation.

Until next week, it's businessofgovernment.org.

Linda J. Washington interview
03/15/2008
Linda J. Washington

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