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.

Marion Blakey interview

Friday, July 1st, 2005 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"The FAA is providing an important customer service and we have to match the demand. As air traffic increases and as aviation is an enormous driver on our economy, we must invest smartly in infrastructure, technology and the service to match the demand."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 07/02/2005
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs; Leadership; Strategic Thinking; Innovation; Financial Management; Market-Based Government...

Missions and Programs; Leadership; Strategic Thinking; Innovation; Financial Management; Market-Based Government

Complete transcript: 

Thursday, November 4, 2004

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 learn more by visiting us on the Web at businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Show Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Marion Blakey, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Good morning, Mary.

Ms. Blakey: Good morning. Nice to be with you, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you. And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Dave Abel.

Good morning, Dave.

Mr. Abel: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Marion, let's start by filling our listeners in on the FAA. Could you talk to us about its mission?

Ms. Blakey: Well, the FAA's mission is to ensure that the traveling public, when they're flying, can be assured it's safe and efficient. We run the largest, most complex aviation system in the world. Of course, Air Traffic Control is a big part of that. But we also do a great deal in terms of setting the regulatory standards for what aircraft operators must meet; new aircraft coming into the system, and we also work, of course, to make sure those operations day-in and day-out are inspected and overseen in a way that, again, ensures safety.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you describe the size of the FAA; the network, the people, the budget. How would you describe it?

Ms. Blakey: Well, it's an agency of about 48,000 people scattered all over the country and around the world, really, because, as you can imagine, aviation is a global business, and that's the business we're in. The budget right now is around $14 billion, so again, one that both ensures the ongoing operation of the system and makes investment in the modernizing of the system and the future generation of the system.

Mr. Lawrence: 48,000 people. Can you give us a little bit about the range, the skills these people have? I immediately think of sort of heavy technical engineers, and the aircraft and the like, but I suspect it's much broader.

Ms. Blakey: It is broader. You know, we have a wide variety of professions involved. Everything from highly technical people who are pilots and engineers; people who can go on board an aircraft and inspect for all the right things; people who know how to control traffic and who are able, in fact, to look at the most efficient ways to design our air space. And then we have people who are policy folks, who are out there looking at issues of congestion management; what should we do in the future in terms of designing the revenue streams for a system like the one we have. Obviously, people who are in international fields, working with our counterparts in other countries around the world so that we have a seamless global system that works. A lot of different things. If you're an economist, if you're in policy, lawyers, all those are part of the FAA's workforce.

Mr. Abel: Marion, when you were describing the mission of the FAA, there's a vast number of stakeholders, and they fit into a number of different groups. What's the relationship with a couple of these groups? Let's start first with the airlines. What's the nature of the relationship between the FAA and the airlines?

Ms. Blakey: We look at the airlines as our customers. I think it's fair to say that because they provide the service to the vast majority of the American public that flies, we want to make sure that the service we're providing, both in terms of air traffic control and the overall approach we're taking in terms of operations in the system, meets their needs. At the same time, of course, we also regulate their work. We oversee safe operations, and so we place requirements on our customers as well. So it's a combination of things, but I think it's important to stress that it has to be a strong partnership, because after all, they're out there every day on the front lines and we're trying to ensure that they do the best possible job for the flying public.

Mr. Abel: How about some other organizations within the federal government, say the Department of Defense. I know there's a strong relationship between FAA and DoD. What's the nature of that relationship as well?

Ms. Blakey: Glad you mentioned it, because, you know, when you really look at the domestic air space, a lot of it is also devoted to military operations. Needs to be -- particularly in these days after 9/11, when the safety and security and surveillance missions are all caught up together. So we work very closely, particularly with the Air Force, as you can appreciate. We have military controllers out there who control some of the airspace as well as our own federal employees. And we try very hard to make sure that all of the regulations we do and requirements also meet the needs of our military. And in some cases like commercial space, we also work on commercial space launches, whether they take place from a federal Air Force facility or a private sector facility now.

Mr. Abel: I would imagine there needs to be a relationship with the Department of Homeland Security as well?

Ms. Blakey: A very close one, as you can appreciate. A large part of the work force that initially went over to the Department of Homeland Security came from the Department of Transportation. That's our parent agency. And, in fact, a number of them were involved with security on the aviation front at the FAA. So we've worked very closely, because they're the ones who have to assess what the threats are; they obviously do all of the surveillance in the airports of passengers as people get on the planes, but we're the ones who control the airspace. So we work very hard to make sure that when operational changes need to occur -- when there are, for example, areas where flights are restricted -- as you can appreciate, we've had a number of those with big events that go on, certainly during the Presidential election, we had to be certain when there were areas where we really didn't want to have flights at a low level over those areas, we work very closely with Homeland Security to figure out how to do that well.

Mr. Abel: Let's talk a little bit about your role. Can you tell us a little bit about the job and the responsibilities as Administrator?

Ms. Blakey: Well, I would like to say that this job involves sort of both being a pitcher and a catcher. I think the pitcher part, of course, is that you do try to look at the needs of the aviation system over the long haul. And a part of what I've spent a lot of time on is developing a strong business plan for the agency that looks strategically at where the system is going to go. I'm very proud to say that we are in fact developing a plan now that will be going to Congress in December for the next generation system of our aviation system here in this country. So there's a lot of that that's involved. But, certainly, day-to-day manager, and being, as I say, a catcher of the issues that you never expect and come your way; all of that's a part of it. I think most important, fundamentally, it is strong management skills that are required for the job.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's take a little look at your experiences before becoming Administrator of the FAA. Can you tell us about some of the previous positions that you held before this role?

Ms. Blakey: Well, I can. Certainly recently, they were all involved with transportation in various stripes. But, I'll tell you, I'm also very proud of having been a civil servant for many years. I started as a GS-3 clerk. Wasn't even a clerk-typist, because I couldn't type. So you can imagine I was pretty far down the totem pole. But liked government for many reasons including the broad scope of issues, the feeling that you really do have an impact on the lives of people all over this country. So I worked in a number of departments and agencies and had some great opportunities. Worked in the White House, Department of Commerce, Department of Education many years ago. But became fascinated by Transportation, and had the opportunity to head the agency that regulates the automobile industry.

I had a firm in the private sector that was all focused on transportation issues, a communications and public affairs firm that I'm proud to say flourishes to this day: Blakey and Agnew. It was Blakey and Associates then. But worked on a number of public policy issues with a number of corporations, all focused on transportation. And then came back into government as the Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board that investigates accidents. It gives you a very fine appreciation, of course, as you can imagine, for the safety issues of our system. And I was very surprised but delighted to be tapped by President Bush to be head of the FAA. So I guess that's the quick version.

Mr. Abel: You mentioned that one of the responsibilities and one of the areas that you need to manage now is reacting to things that happen on a daily basis. How have those roles prepared you for the responsibility in FAA of management, of reacting to events on a daily basis?

Ms. Blakey: You know, you have to again try to look at the broad picture, and every day, frankly, go in and say, how am I going to move the agenda that I believe is important on the two, three, four things that you really set in front of yourself as goals and objectives in that job? It's very easy to get caught up in all of the pressures of the issues, concerns, problems that everyone brings to you. And so I do think you really have to start out, as I say, with trying to see if during that day and that week -- I can't say I accomplish it every day -- but at least during that week, you feel like you have actually moved toward the goals that you're setting and at the same time, trying to be responsive and nimble. One of the things that I certainly found in my years in the private sector is you have an appreciation for how important it is to be able to react quickly, to size something up, to make decisions.

Government doesn't always engender the kind of culture that prompts good, strong and efficient decision-making. And so you try, I think, in the kind of role that I play as Administrator, to try to make those decisions on a basis that then people below you can be responsive and react in a way that's timely.

Mr. Lawrence: Let's continue along that path. You were just contrasting the public sector and the private sector, and having been in both those sectors. How about some other comparisons in terms of management approaches from all your experiences.

Ms. Blakey: In terms of management in the private sector, of course, you do have the feeling of being much more nimble, much more able to react to forces quickly, and frankly, decisions are not ones that you have to look at a variety of overseers before you can make them in a way that holds. That is all very refreshing. I will also say that many of us in the private sector look at ourselves fundamentally as salesmen, as people who are advocates, as people who are promoting an agenda in a very direct way. It doesn't hold true for all jobs, but certainly ones that I have had. And I have prized that.

I have to tell you that I've enjoyed the opportunities to really set a marker out there and go for it in a way that -- sometimes within government, it's much more of a process. So those are the things that I would say from a private sector standpoint you can appreciate and try to employ as you move in to the public sector and to public policy. But of course, public policy, as I say, the opportunity to work with a variety of organizations, whether it's the Congress, OMB, the Administration, more broadly, other agencies, is a genuine challenge that also is very reinforcing, because again, the impact and scope of what you can accomplish that way is enormous. And that's something that I think many of us who have enjoyed our tenure during our life in government, it is all about that kind of scope and impact.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting point, especially about the contrast.

Air travel is up significantly in the last couple of years, returning to the point where many airports are close to their pre-9/11 volumes. What does this mean for FAA operations?

We'll ask Marion Blakey, the FAA's Administrator 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 Marion Blakey, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Mr. Abel: Marion, in the last segment, we talked a little bit about the size of FAA. I'd like to ask a little bit about the size of the FAA's mission. About how many people fly in commercial and private air carriers each year?

Ms. Blakey: Well, if you look at it basically in the area of commercial, because private is sometimes hard to know because a lot of those folks are out there flying VFR, and we don't tally them up each time they leave a small air field. But if we're talking about commercial passengers it is somewhat under 700 million. 689 million was the last figure that I had for the last year we were counting, which was, you know, pretty accurate.

Mr. Abel: Over the past two years since September 11th, we've started to see a significant increase again in the volume of people who are flying commercial aviation. What type of impact does that increase of volume or demand have on the FAA?

Ms. Blakey: Well, certainly, we have to stay up with demand, and since we are an operational agency, the more folks up there flying, typically, the more services we have to provide, the more people it requires to do it, et cetera. One of the interesting things that's a phenomena now in aviation is we have seen very different patterns of traffic since 9/11: much more point-to-point flying, much more use of regional jets. And so what that means from our standpoint is we have a high number of operations that we have to provide the air traffic control for, the services on the ground for, and yet they are not carrying as many passengers as they might have with the widebody's bigger aircraft that you saw more of before 9/11.

So there's a shift in the fleet. And as we're looking at some of the things that are coming at us, we're going to be seeing even more of that with what are called Microjets, the very small aircraft that are coming online in the next few years. And of course, then there's UAVs. So there's a lot out there coming at us.

Mr. Abel: So what are some of the things that -- in your strategy, what are some of the things that you're looking to be able to do over the course of the next couple of years to address this increase in demand of operations, in addition to the increase in passengers?

Ms. Blakey: It is to have the FAA be a very flexible agency in the sense of where we assign our work force, how we allocate our resources, because obviously, as there's a dynamic in the airline business and in aviation that's changing, we really have to stay up with it. As I say, we see ourselves as providing an important customer service, if you will, and so that means we have to match the demand. At the same time, we've also got to invest in the system, and a fair amount of time that I spend, of course, is looking at the way that we are investing in technology; are we getting a good return on that investment; are we modernizing our system. So that in fact, it's going to anticipate the requirements in the future, and frankly, use our air space and our airports and ground infrastructure ever more efficiently, because as traffic continues to increase, which it will, and as aviation is an enormous driver on our economy nationally and it will be internationally, we had better provide the infrastructure and the service that will match it, and that means we are going to have to invest smartly.

Mr. Abel: So if you think about it from a very simple perspective, in order to be able to manage the demand for air transportation, we have to look at flight delays and capacity. What are some of the things that the FAA is doing to be able to increase capacity at airports. Is it as simple as building more runways?

Ms. Blakey: Well, runways are a lot of it. I'll tell you, there's no substitute for pavement. And in fact, I am very pleased with the way our country is really stepping up and recognizing that, because it takes a lot of on the part of city fathers and communities to make the political headway and then the investment that's required to put in new runways. But we're seeing a lot of that. Over the course of the last five years, we've had eight major runways go in, and that's a big thing. You know, places like Houston, Orlando, Miami. We've got them coming in, you know, in places like St. Louis. It's a great thing.

And of course, Chicago O'Hare, one of the real challenges in our system, because so many of our flights go through Chicago -- they're planning a major modernization of O'Hare as well. So there's a lot of pavement that is involved in ensuring that we're going to have the infrastructure there to support the passengers that are coming through. At the same time, technology is a great part of it. We also need to really have a system that has new technologies there so that we can use the air space more efficiently. And we've worked pretty hard on that as well.

Mr. Abel: What are some examples of some of the potential new technologies that may help to be able to more efficiently manage the air space?

Ms. Blakey: One of the big things, basic. We have a change out going on on what we call the host, if you will, the central nervous system of our air traffic control system. This is a major thing. And as you can appreciate, over many years, that system was developed, the software was written. The software right now is still written in a language called Jovial. There aren't many people out there who write Jovial anymore. So we are changing all of that, and that is a big multi-billion dollar investment.

Another thing that we're doing is in the terminal air space. I'm sure some of our listeners have seen those round scopes; you know, the old air traffic control radar. You don't see that now. What you're seeing more and more is new, very impressive screens that look a lot like the big computer screens at home, full color; where we are not only able to fuse radar coming in from as many as 16 different sources, but we also are able to infuse weather information for the controllers. Other kinds of very critical information so that they're able to sequence flights and with greater and greater precision, control them.

Another thing that's going on which our listeners will begin to have the benefit of in January of this coming year is that we're reducing the vertical separation between flights in the air space. Now, I'm sure that might cause some concern for some folks. You know, lots of space is good, but the more efficiently we use the air space, obviously, the more we're going to be able to handle increased traffic without delays, with the kind of reliability people want. And the air space, the upper air space is now going to be used in thousand mile vertical separation rather than two thousand mile. It's done around the world. The United States is moving to that. And again, that's going to offer some real efficiencies.

Mr. Abel: You describe for us the increase in demand and the increased requirements on the FAA to be able to manage that demand. And the listeners may assume that that means that there's a lot more money to be able to manage the organization, but we certainly know that not to be the case. You've focused a lot recently on the efficiency and effectiveness of the Air Traffic Organization, or ATO. What is the ATO?

Ms. Blakey: The ATO is a new performance-based organization within the FDA that brings together several of our major, what were formerly lines of business, in an integrated streamlined way. The concept, of course, is to develop a organization that has layers, that is very service-oriented, and that operates to specific performance metrics. We have targets that we are setting for our organization that go to issues that reduce delay, on-time performance, using the infrastructure to the best possible capability there, and, of course, indications of safety and the kind of performance that we'll always require from that standpoint.

But we do believe that having those kinds of targets, and frankly, cost efficient measures. We are looking at cost accounting, being able to understand, really, for the first time, what it costs to undertake air traffic control of a given airplane. How much does it cost to control over an hour in upper air space the flight of an airplane? Because, obviously, as you're thinking about service and how you provide it and what things cost, you really do need to be able to get it down to unit cost. That's what the private sector does. And we can do it in government as well. It makes us much more accountable and transparent as to how we're using our resources. All of that is part of the air traffic organization.

Mr. Abel: What has been the impact of the implementation of the ATO so far. It's a relatively new organization. How's it going so far?

Ms. Blakey: Well, it's going well. We have been working very hard, for example, to streamline our operation at the top tier of management and in headquarters, dropping the number of layers from around 11 down to 5 or 6. We're doing a number of things to align the question of how you invest in new capital improvements in the system, with also the people who have to operate the system. It used to be that the FAA made research, acquisition investments in one part of the FAA and the folks who are operating the system were off in another part. When these new improvements, technologies, were then handed over to the operational folks, sometimes we found that they didn't align too well. Sometimes we found that the issues of how much it costs to maintain over time, how much it costs to really operate it, we did not have a good integration between those two sides of sound decision-making. So the Air Traffic Organization has now put those decisions again in the hands of people who have to both operate the system and have to think long-term about the return on investment. And by integrating that, I think we're going to get a much more efficient system.

Mr Lawrence: The FAA has several initiatives underway to better regulate and enforce safety standards, to include improving customer satisfaction. Could you tell us about these?

Ms. Blakey: Yeah, we have found all along that we needed to be more consistent in the way we provided interpretations of our regulations, the way we provided guidance on how those who are out there both developing aircraft, modifying aircraft, doing the kind of maintenance that's involved, what those standards and certification requirements were. And there has been the impression; certainly, that I think has been real in some cases that different parts of the FAA in different parts of the country operated differently.

The guidance was not always consistent, wasn't always as reliable as it needed to be. So what we've done is, we've provided to all of our organizations out there a required code that says these are the kinds of things that to be responsive to our customers, you need to do. And if someone comes in and believes that the guidance that they've been given, the decision they were given on a given issue problem, aircraft, they want to appeal it, it also provides the information to our customers on how you take it up to the next level, and guarantees a hearing, so that if there are issues of consistency from one place or another, as it moves up, we are able to address those and understand that they're there. That kind of accountability, I think, we're having good reactions from all those out there that the FAA touches and affects.

I'm also very proud of the fact that the customer satisfaction survey that we do has been consistently going up. We're getting good grades from pilots out there as to how well our Air Traffic Control is working, how we're touching a number of our customers now. And that matters to us.

Mr. Lawrence: Most FAA employees are in a pay for performance situation. What does this mean to the employees and its leaders?

We'll ask Marion Blakey of the FAA for her thoughts 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 Marion Blakey, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Mr. Abel: Marion, in our first segment, you talked about the need for you to balance between strategic planning and operations. We talked a lot in the last segment about the operations of the FAA and the increase in demand. Let's flip back and talk a little bit about strategic planning. How in the organization do you do strategic planning?

Ms. Blakey: Well, you know, it's pretty challenging in an organization that is really required to keep up with transactions, millions of them a day. In other words, unlike a lot of agencies of government, the FAA really operates a system, and both achievements and occasional mistakes are very public, so it's hard to pull back and then to say, nope, we're going to take a longer view, and we're going to set goals and then attach not only metrics to those goals so we can tell whether we are meeting them or not, but we're going to tie our budget to those goals and see what it's costing us, and see whether we can afford to do this and continue to keep up on it on a week-in week-out, month-in month-out basis.

The way we tackled it was that we decided that we would construct a flight plan for the FAA, a rolling five-year plan that was going to, as I say, be tied to performance measures and tied to our budget. That does, believe me, get the attention of all your executives in a hurry, because that means that everything is going to be run by a strategic plan, a business plan. As many of us know in government, I think there are probably strategic plans all over town that are gathering dust on shelves. You have one, you post it on your web site and that's the end of that.

Ours is one that we developed over the course of about six months. It was a very arduous process of really trying to determine what the kind of goals and initiatives were that would genuinely improve our system, that would genuinely advance safety, and how you would measure that; how you would measure our achievements internationally, because we wanted the FAA to be much more proactive internationally -- frankly, set the standards globally for aviation -- and how we were going to set standards of organizational excellence that really would put us first in government. That's the goal there, and we're not shy about saying so. But we work very hard internally, and then we had the plan in draft put out there for comment by all of our stakeholders, we hold town hall meetings, we encourage comments from our employees, and then we posted the plan on our web site and said we are going to be measured by this.

I hold meetings every month where all of our executive team comes together. We spend a full day together going over all of those metrics. Are we hitting it or we not? Are we making our numbers or are we not? And we are then accountable on a quarterly basis just like a corporation, for whether we're doing it or not. We use a simple system: red, yellow, green. For people who want to click into it, we have a good software-based system called PB Views that allows people to go as deeply as they want to into the specific initiatives and performance measures of the FAA, and see specifically how we're doing on those.

And because we do tie our pay at the FAA, the annual awards and bonuses that frankly are automatic just about everywhere else in government, in ours, we have to make our numbers. Last year, we didn't make all of our numbers, and as a result, we only awarded 85 percent of what is usually the annual increases, the quality step increases, all of that, which we combined for our organizational success increase. We only awarded 85 percent, because that was really what we made on our numbers. This year, for '04, I'm just doing the assessment right now with our executive team. We're going to do better than that. But we're still not hitting every goal, and that's because they're strict goals. But we intend it to be that way.

We have just published our new draft plan, we'll be rolling it out soon, and at this point, I'm pleased to say we've had over a thousand comments and suggestions on it. That's good, because that means both our stakeholders and, very significantly, our employees, 85 percent of the comments came from my employees; they've got ownership in it, and that makes a huge difference.

Mr. Lawrence: Who participated in the initial development of the plan?

Ms. Blakey: You know, it started out with executive-led teams. But then we worked it out through our facilities, and then we asked our customer base to come in and meet. The FAA is not short on having advisory groups and people we can count on to help us with good advice, and frankly, it really was a big group effort. I don't take any personal ownership in this. It's something that needed to be developed organically, and I think that's one reason why it's working.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you provide us with a couple of examples of things that you measure? What would be some example measurements that are in the plan?

Ms. Blakey: Well, I certainly can. One of them, for example, is to reduce the risk of runway incursions, two planes getting too close together on a runway, vehicles getting out there, and I'm proud to tell you that we set specific numbers that we were trying to drive down the numbers of those incidents, because we believe it has very fundamental affect on safety. Reduce the number of Alaska accidents. You might say why Alaska? Well, because, frankly, that was where we saw the greatest incidence of accidents and fatalities. Being a pilot in Alaska used to be a high-risk profession, largely because of terrain and weather. But we knew we could take on some of those issues with new technologies, and we did.

When I look at questions of how we operate the system, we looked at things like on-time performance; how are we doing from the standpoint of actually being within 15 minutes of the time passengers expect to arrive at the gate? We don't control it entirely. That's also a part of weather and the way the airline is scheduled. But we've got specific metrics. Frankly, that was one last year we didn't make. So I could go on, but that gives you some idea, you know. These are not soft goals.

Mr. Lawrence: You mentioned that a number of the employees; in fact, a large percentage of the employees, are rewarded based on being able to meet these metrics. Are they rewarded on meeting all of the metrics, or ones that apply to their specific job?

Ms. Blakey: We do it on two levels, if you will. I am proud of the fact that 75 percent of the FAA's workforce, and this includes our unionized work force to a very significant degree, is on a pay for performance system. We have what we call an organizational success increase, which means that out of the 30 goals that we have for the FAA, we're expected to meet 90 percent of those if in fact people are going to get the full OSI, as we call it. Then there are specific also awards that go for the more-detailed duties that each individual employee has. And those increases also are really tailored to their responsibility, so they vary from one part of the FAA to another.

Mr. Lawrence: As long as we're talking about the employees of the FAA, can you tell us a little bit about some of the human resources challenges you face in the organization today?

Ms. Blakey: Well, you know, I bet like much of government, from what I understand, we're dealing with an aging workforce, and that's not surprising, particularly for the FAA, because of two things. One is that when you think about the folks you want out there inspecting airplanes and providing oversight from the standpoint of certifying aircraft and all of that, needless to say, you draw on very experienced people. A lot of them come out of the industry. They're highly trained, but that means it is an older work force on the whole.

Another phenomenon was that for our air traffic controllers, the PATCO strike meant that large numbers were hired in the early '80s, because President Reagan fired over 10,000 air traffic controllers, and the need to replace those all happened within a few years. Those folks are reaching the maximum retirement age, which is 56, as the system is set up. So we're going to see large numbers mustering out over the next ten years. And that means we're going to be hiring lots of people, and we have to figure out a plan that both figures out how to begin to step that up, and how we can train highly efficiently so that you move people into the system well.

Mr. Lawrence: How long does it take -- when someone decides to become an air traffic controller, how long does it take before they can actually work in the system? Is it a long lead cycle or is it relatively short?

Ms. Blakey: It depends, of course, on the experience base that they bring. We recruit from the military, where they've been controlling live traffic; we recruit from schools around the country where they may have spent four years in an undergraduate degree learning a lot. But we also recruit people straight in. Average is three to five years to be a fully certified controller, particularly at the more complex facilities. Now, fully certified means that you can work all positions in some of our most complex facilities out there.

We think probably, as we need to step up the pace on this, we're going to use simulators, for example, which is something that has been highly successful, as you know, in the training of airline pilots. The FAA hasn't relied on it as much. We believe in simulating all sorts of circumstances that hopefully controllers will never see in their actual air space that they're going to control. We'll be able to bring people through the system more quickly, and that would be a good thing.

Mr. Lawrence: In 2002, the FAA won an award for the most improved government agency. I'd be curious about some other awards you've won as well, and I guess, sort of even, how you continue to improve to win these awards.

Ms. Blakey: Well, you know, we do focus on that a lot. I really do believe that it is important to have people recognize the excellent performance and the real steps that we're taking to be a performance-driven organization. For example, we were very pleased that we were, with the Department of Transportation, top agency of government in terms of the President's Management Agenda. Four out of five of the key scores, we were green on. So we were right up there in the very top tier, and the FAA drove a lot of that because we're a big part of the Department of Transportation.

The Association of Government Accountants, in this last year, gave us award for our performance in financial report. We're very proud of that. We're proud of the fact that we have had clean audits for the last three years, and believe me, we're working very hard to get another one this year. Customer satisfaction index, as I say, this continues to go up, and we're looking at expanding that so that we have the real measure of how people feel we are doing in terms of being responsive to their needs.

So all of these are the kinds of things that, you know, as I look at it, we're working very hard, I'll tell you this, to get off the GAO's high risk list. I'm sure there are folks out there who know government agencies are often targeted there. The FAA's financial performance has been there for a while, and I'm very hopeful that we're going to move off of that as a result.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting.

What are the implications for the FAA of things such as commercial space travel? We'll ask Marion Blakey from the FAA for her thoughts on what the future holds for 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 Marion Blakey, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Mr. Abel: Over the past ten years, most businesses have gone global, but none more than commercial aviation. What is some of the impact now of the international nature of air transportation on operations of the FAA?

Ms. Blakey: Well, you know, it is a global system, and it is very much in the interest of the American flying public that we encourage open skies, the ability of not only of our carriers to fly routes all over the globe, but also to co-chair with foreign carriers so that in fact, you know, you don't have to have expensive service everywhere, because you could link up with a lot of others. That drives the price of tickets down, but at the same time, we have to be sure that it is not only a seamless system out there, but a very safe system. And parts of the world, as you know, safety challenges in aviation are much greater than they are in the United States. So we're trying to raise the bar on safety in a number of places.

We're also very convinced that American technology, American safety, is something we should be exporting. It's one of the great aspects of the fact that the United States has been a leader in aviation since the Wright Brothers. So in markets like China, for example, we're working very hard on both air traffic control systems and procedures, satellite-based systems. We have a satellite-based system now that we believe uses our GPS system, that will extend all the way from India through, we hope, China. Certainly Japan has already committed to it, and around the globe into the United States. It's going to be a great boon for aviation.

So we're working hard to expand those benefits, and frankly, that also benefits the United States economy in a variety of ways, our companies and our passengers. It's a big part of our goal these days.

Mr. Lawrence: Does the FAA have a single counterpart in Europe, or are there multiple organizations?

Ms. Blakey: I'm glad to say that with the European Union's advent, they have now developed an agency that's brand new called EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, that actually is going to be officially opening its doors in Cologne before the end of this year. So that's a good thing, because that brings all those countries together for us to work with on a joint basis. We are also encouraging safety on a regional basis in a number of parts of the world. Because, especially less developed countries with fewer resources, if they combine forces and we can provide them technical assistance across national boundaries that will work well in Latin America, in Africa and other parts of the globe. So that's another thing that we're doing. But we work very closely with our European counterparts

Mr. Lawrence: Now a bit earlier, you talked about some of the things that are coming in the future of commercial transportation, and just to pick out a couple of fun ones, you were present as Spaceship 1 completed its second trip into space earlier this year. What was it like to witness that?

Ms. Blakey: Wow, I'll tell you, that was the longest period of sustained goose bumps I've ever had in my life. No, it was fabulous standing out there in the Mohave in the early morning, freezing cold, watching that flight. When Mike Melville took it up, really into space, really expanded what has happened in terms of a privately developed, privately piloted aircraft that all of a sudden can go, not only into space, but come back, and has the capability to carry passengers. I was there with Richard Branson, who has decided that Virgin Galactic is going to begin carrying passengers into space in the next couple of years. So you can imagine, from the FAA standpoint, I see a lot of challenges coming together. I believe, of course this is very exciting in the future of aviation and aerospace, and we need to enable it. But there are issues of risks to passengers, issues, of course that we have to protect the safety of folks on the ground. So it's a challenge.

Mr. Lawrence: Do you have an organization today that's focused on space travel within FAA?

Ms. Blakey: Absolutely, our commercial space organization within our organization actually has ensured the safe launch of 167 commercial launches already. Now that we're getting into the reusable vehicle area, of course, that's got new challenges. But we're very proud of that track record.

Mr. Abel: You also mentioned a bit earlier a new type of travel called Microjets. What is a Microjet?

Ms. Blakey: It's a small, high performance aircraft. There aren't any out there on the market, but there are two companies, Eclipse and Adam, and there are several others coming along, which are using composite materials and very high performance small jet engines, to provide transportation for four to six people typically, that can be right up there with commercial jets. Glass cockpits, all of the kind of safety and navigation features that you really see, you know, in a Boeing 777. And what that's going to do is it's going to allow air taxis to flourish. Service to a lot of smaller airports, because a small number of people on a cost efficient basis can go on a non-scheduled basis point to point. Over time, it is really going to infuse transportation in this country with a lot more flexibility and cost efficiency than you have right now, when you're restricted just to the large commercial jets.

Mr. Abel: So if we put a couple of these together: we have microjets, space travel, increased demand for commercial aviation today, even just based on these regional jets versus larger jets we were saying before, how long can the FAA continue to operate as it is today, or are there plans for a new way of being able to business in the future.

Ms. Blakey: Well, Dave, I'm glad you asked that, because it's one of the things I've really spent a lot of time thinking about with some smart people. The system is not infinitely scaleable. In fact, we're getting to the limits of it. When you think about the fact that we use active ground to air control, voice communications, you can appreciate, as the traffic gets more and more dense -- UAVs coming into the system, a lot of things -- we're really going to have to change this.

The next generation system, we are bringing out a plan, in fact, again, before the end of this year, that I think is going to address what a next generation aviation system, both in terms of air traffic control, much more emphasis on satellite-based, satellite to aircraft, aircraft to aircraft separation; much more on automation; much more in terms of controlling traffic as managing exceptions with automation; looking to ensure the safety routinely, and in point of fact, we are also going to have to see a much better use of our infrastructure in terms of airport infrastructure, where do we need them for the years to come?

You know, it's not all going to be where it is right now. And so, the "build it and they will come," we've got to build it and anticipate where it's going to be. And so we're working very hard on those kinds of things, as well as what will a really stepped-up safety system be all about. The Europeans have already developed such a plan. So we're going to be moving out on this because, again, we believe that the leadership of the United States overall, both for our domestic health as well as internationally, depends on it.

Mr. Abel: What is the timing of a plan like that? What type of horizon would you look at as far as the time that it would cover?

Ms. Blakey: It covers out to 2025. That sounds like a long way away, but remember that the aircraft that are rolling off the assembly line right now will be flying in 2025. It typically can take as long as seven to twelve years to build a runway, so this kind of planning, it's not so far out there. And what I will also tell you is that this is an inter-agency process, which we rarely see in government. We are doing this with the Department of Defense, Homeland Security, Commerce, because, of course, they have the Weather Service, and weather's a big factor in aviation, along with the White House, in terms of our science and policy shop over there, so we've got really a lot of folks who are working with the Department of Transportation and the FAA on this. And NASA is a big part, of course, of that partnership as well.

Mr. Lawrence: Is there participation of commercial entities as well, airlines or cargo carriers, or other users of transportation as well?

Ms. Blakey: Absolutely. Our stakeholders really have to be involved and say, yes, we see the system serving us in the future, and that's going to be a big part of it, and frankly, such a plan will be governing our federal investments. One of the things that I think is exciting in this is, as we all know, the tremendous advances that have occurred in the Department of Defense in terms of the use of satellite-based navigation, air control systems that can translate into the civil side and benefit all of us. So this kind of joint effort together for surveillance, navigation, communication -- it's going to yield real dividends, and it will begin to govern our investments, not only looking at 2025, but in the near years, because you've got to have a smooth transition.

Mr. Lawrence: Marion, in our first segment you talked about your career beginning as a GS-3 and now working up to the Administrator, and cutting across both the public and private sector. What advice would you give to someone interested in a career in public service?

Ms. Blakey: Well, I would certainly say that I've found it tremendously personally rewarding. The mission orientation of the opportunities that you often have in government service; the ability to get up in the morning and know that you genuinely make a difference in people's lives. That's a tremendous engine, I think psychically for all of us in terms of -- do you like to come to work, do you care about what you do? Do you feel like you're making a difference? I can tell you that my career in government has really given me the ability to answer that affirmatively every time, but never more so than at the FAA, because we obviously have a mission that touches everyone's lives.

Anyone thinking about careers broadly, but certainly in terms of public service, I think it's also important to be open to opportunity. I would never have projected that my career would have taken the turns it has. I could not have anticipated some of the opportunities that one career in one agency would then lead to another. And it's been very exciting to realize that sometimes, the way that mentors, the way people see you that are above you in government, may not be the way you see yourself. But in fact, that opens opportunities; that opens challenges that you rise to.

And I have found government to be a wonderfully supportive environment from that standpoint, of being able to move into arenas, that as I say, I wouldn't have anticipated, but it's been tremendously rewarding. I would also say this: that I would encourage anyone who is interested in public service to look at the FAA. I'd like to see them go to www.faa.gov, because there, they'll be able to see what we're doing. Look at our flight plan. See how we're doing on our performance. But they can also look at the careers we have at the FAA. I think they're terrific.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you very much for joining us this morning, Marion. I'm afraid we're out of time. That will have to be our last question.

Do you want to mention the web site once again?

Ms. Blakey: The web site is www.faa.gov. And I'd love to have people go there. You can even get good information about how the system is doing on a given date. You can even access it from your wireless, from a PDA, to see how your airports out there are doing, if you want to know if there are delays in the system. It's a great site.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Marion Blakey, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Be sure and 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.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Marion Blakey interview
07/02/2005
"The FAA is providing an important customer service and we have to match the demand. As air traffic increases and as aviation is an enormous driver on our economy, we must invest smartly in infrastructure, technology and the service to match the demand."

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