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.

Michael Jackson interview

Friday, September 5th, 2003 - 20:00
"The fundamental mission for DHS is to provide an architecture for the President about how we're going to do the homeland security work of the nation."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 09/06/2003
Intro text: 
Leadership; Missions and Programs; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships; Financial Management; Organizational Transformation; Strategic Thinking; Innovation; Human Capital Management...

Leadership; Missions and Programs; Collaboration: Networks and Partnerships; Financial Management; Organizational Transformation; Strategic Thinking; Innovation; Human Capital Management

Magazine profile: 
Complete transcript: 

Arlington, Virginia

Thursday, March 27, 2003

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

The Business of Government Hour features a conversation about management with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our conversation this morning is with Michael Jackson. Michael is the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation. Good morning, Michael.

Mr. Jackson: Good morning, Paul. Glad to join you.

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

Mr. Abel: Good morning, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Michael, perhaps you could begin by giving us sort of a perspective about the mission and the programs of the Department of Transportation.

Mr. Jackson: I'd be happy to. The Department of Transportation is about 60,000 employees strong, and our budget is about $56 billion. We recently moved two very large segments of the Department, the Coast Guard, and the Transportation Security Administration, to the Homeland Security Department, the new department headed by Tom Ridge. That was about 17 percent of our budget and around 70 percent of our staff, a large chunk of the people of the Department.

So we're 60,000 people strong, covering all modes of transportation, air, land, and sea, and that's the big overview of the size of the Department.

Mr. Lawrence: Could you give us a perspective or a sense of the skills within the Department? I think when you think transportation, you have a perception. I'm curious about the wide range of skills of the employees.

Mr. Jackson: Sure. We have, I confess, a tremendous department. I'm prejudiced. But it's a department of doers, so there are air traffic controllers who are keeping the right separation and safety in the skies, there are engineers designing bridges, there are safety researchers who are doing crash research to try to make certain that our cars are more safe, there are people in the maritime world who are today working to run the ready reserve fleet that we use to support the military's mission to call up civilian sea lift capacity in a time of war.

So it's a wide range of skills, but it's people who are focused on doing things, engineers, air traffic controllers, people who have practical skills and operational missions.

Mr. Abel: Let's talk a little bit about your responsibilities in the Department. For the deputy secretary, what does a typical day look like? What would you do on a regular basis?

Mr. Jackson: Since 9/11, there hasn't a regular answer to this, but the deputy secretary is the chief operating officer of the Department. I support my boss, Norm Mineta, Secretary Mineta, in overseeing and managing the work of the Department's multiple modes of transportation, some 10 modes of transportation that we manage at the Department. And so it's everything from budget and planning work that you'd expect for a large organization, to crisis management, to strategizing about how to manage our programs in a more effective fashion, doing reviews of work underway, working with the Congress, working with the White House, working with the media and interest groups. So it's a variety of internal and external operationally focused jobs.

Mr. Abel: On our program, we've spoken with a number of the modal administrators over the past couple of years. Can you tell me a little bit about how your job relates to what each of the modal administrators does?

Mr. Jackson: I try to manage the Department's work for the Secretary on an ongoing basis. So that means coordinating with modal administrators common problems across the modes, it means making sure that they have the resources to get done what they need to do, and working with them on the tasks that are before them. Oftentimes, their work requires coordination with the Secretary, with the White House, with Congress, and so we're switching -- point in coordination -- focus for the overall work of the Department.

Mr. Abel: Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences prior to joining the Department, some of your background?

Mr. Jackson: I'd be happy to. As my mom says, I can't hold a job. I've had skill sets developed from multiple parts of the world in my past. I started out with a Ph.D. in political science and was a government professor, taught at Georgetown University, at Georgia. I've worked for three presidents, four cabinet members, and I've had a series of jobs in the Executive Branch.

But in addition, I've worked for a large corporation on the outside, which was an invaluable set of tools to bring back into the government after I returned to the government to work for President Bush.

Mr. Abel: In particular, your experience in the private sector, how did that prepare you for your responsibilities that you have today? What did that do to be able to help you to perform the duties that you have today?

Mr. Jackson: I think the private sector brings important skill sets to the government and we too often overlook the tools, the mentality, the business discipline and rigor that comes from meeting a payroll, managing a business, and understanding how to get new business and be Customer-responsive. So I believe all those points of focus which are a part of the work of life for a for-profit business can be brought into the government and building. In building the Transportation Security Administration, that was a significant set of assets we tried to understand better as we built that new agency.

Mr. Abel: How about your academic experience? How has that played into the way you perform your responsibilities and the way you go about your work in the Department?

Mr. Jackson: One wag asked me in an early meeting when I came back to the Department for the second time as deputy secretary, I'd previously served in the previous Bush administration as chief of staff to then-secretary Andy Card, they said does a Ph.D. in political science get you in life? I said, I guess it gets you a job as deputy secretary of transportation. What's your next question?

But seriously, I think that it can be summed up in a very simple phrase, that the academic training brings a precision of thought and economy of expression. It teaches you how to get your mind around a problem and look at it from different angles, and it gives you, I think, a very important understanding. In my case, I studied the history of this nation, the founding, its political institutions. I will tell you I didn't know anything about how to operate in the political world by virtue of reading academic texts, but the combination of the history and the academic work with some real-world experience was a twofer that you can't beat because it allows you to look at the whole picture from a more I think robust perspective. So I feel like I have understood our institutions better by virtue of reading the Federalist Papers and teaching them to college undergraduates, and I've learned a lot about how the Congress operates by actually having to sit there and testify and work through problems with members.

Mr. Abel: It's very interesting that you say that, the work in academics doesn't help to be operate, it helps you to be able to understand, but not to operate. There are some very different cultures in an academic environment, in a public-sector environment, and a private-sector environment. Can you tell us a little bit about how different those environments are and the benefits that come from having worked across three of those key areas?

Mr. Jackson: I'll take the academic and the public sector just for one second on one level. In the academy, you are seeking truth and digging, burrowing, and researching, and never stopping until you feel like you've understood every component part of a problem or issue. In the real world of politics, you have to work on imperfect information, make decisions and go forward. People spend years writing academic books, but if you have to write a policy paper for the President and give him some options on a thorny problem, you're going to have to do it under a time crunch and hand it in to him with the best job you can do.

So it does have a sort of clarifying effect on your work processes when you've got to get something done on a deadline, and academics have deadlines, to be sure, but the nature of their research is more exhaustive, more patient, more protracted, and I saw that big difference in the two worlds.

Mr. Lawrence: What drew you back to public service? You'd been in the private sector, you had served a lot already, what drew you back?

Mr. Jackson: The issues and the opportunity to serve, as corny as that sounds, is one of the most satisfying things that I've ever done in life, and I find that around the government in all sorts of people, career and political appointees, that most people can make more money and many people can have a lot more satisfaction in terms of financial rewards, but there are few things in life that are as satisfying as doing something that needs to be done. It's like trying to break a rock that's hard that needs breaking, and you get all those opportunities across the spectrum of jobs in the federal government.

So I've been energized by working with tremendously talented colleagues at DOT, and in the government generally, so that was an attractive thing. Norm Mineta is a great guy. He asked me to do the job, the President also made that opportunity available to me, and I respect and admire both of them and wanted to be able to contribute in a small way if that were possible.

Mr. Lawrence: You've had the opportunity to work with a variety of different leaders. I'm curious as you reflect on that, what your insights are into the qualities of good leaders.

Mr. Jackson: First I start with honesty and character. I remember when I went to Andy Card, the President's current chief of staff, for his first day of work as the Secretary of Transportation, he said, Michael, if there is an ethical gray line on something, we want to find that line and step back 10 paces. It was tremendously satisfying to work with somebody that has that type of ethical and moral clarity about doing the right thing.

We can have policy disagreements in the government, and do vigorously, but my experience is most people really share that core value. Most good leaders that I have met, all good leaders that I have met, share that core value: What's the thing to do? And they're animated by trying to find their way and burrow down to that question. So that's one.

The other thing that I have seen in leaders in the government in particular is an ability to bust up the normal way of doing business and say how can we do this better, cheaper, faster, more effectively, and that skill is really an intellectual nimbleness of the highest order. When you find a leader who can bring that to the table, it's really an exciting thing in the government, and it's a somewhat rare thing, but surprisingly common at the highest levels of government.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point for this segment. Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue our conversation with Michael Jackson of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

What role does the Department have in protecting the homeland? We'll ask Michael for his perspective when The Business of Government Hour continues.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Michael Jackson. Michael is the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Michael, I'd like to ask you about when you first showed up in your job, I'm curious, could you give us a sense of what the agenda was, what it was like, and what you were doing?

Mr. Jackson: This was the second time to work at the DOT for me, so it was familiarizing myself with a number of issues which were on my plate as chief of staff to the Secretary when I'd left 8 years prior. But the big issue that we were grappling with, perhaps the thorniest issue when we walked through the door was aviation congestion. We had just been through a summer the previous years where there were labor issues and congestion issues, and we were stretching our capacity to move people and aircraft through the system. So we were really struggling to try to make sure that we had imposed innovations in the air space management systems that would allow us to get through the summer, which we actually did well.

Mr. Lawrence: You were involved in the building of the new team at the Department?

Mr. Jackson: Precisely. It's a time for every new cabinet member to asses the issues that are on the plate, problems that have been lingering through a transition which is a natural thing for all transitions to have, to recruit the new team, and that's a tremendously time-consuming but vital part of a new secretary's work. So I was supporting Secretary Mineta in that effort in the first several months as all.

Mr. Abel: Michael, shortly after your arrival at the Department of Transportation, the morning of September 11th changed national priorities, and probably no more so than in the Department of Transportation. Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences on September 11th? Then we'll follow-up and talk a little bit about how that changed the priorities and what you had to do as a response.

Mr. Jackson: Yes, it was a day that changed the world for the transportation department, but also for the transportation networks in this country, and, frankly, around the globe.

I was coming into the office a little bit late that morning. I had taken my daughter to school for the first time, had dropped her off, and was just about to pull into the Department. It turned out that was the last day I was able to take her to school since then. But the immediate effects of understanding what was happening were I think dealt with very, very efficiently and effectively in the Executive Branch. The Secretary was moved over to the White House to be by the Vice President's side to help manage the immediate work of bringing the airspace system down and understanding what we were facing.

I was evacuated with some other senior federal officials to one of those famously undisclosed locations for a time. In the evening, we came back to the Department to meet with our team and assess what we had to do.

Mr. Abel: Shortly after September 11th, Congress passed the act that created the Transportation Security Administration, which created an unheralded challenge for the Department. Can you tell us a little bit about that challenge and what the first steps were in order to create the TSA?

Mr. Jackson: I'm happy to, Dave. It's a great story, I think, for Americans to understand that the government actually worked. It wasn't clean and wasn't tidy at every point. We didn't have the answers to every question, there is still much to be done, but there is so much that we can be proud of that the Congress and the Executive Branch did together to stand up what is the largest agency created since World War II under some very, very severe deadlines, timelines, and performance objectives that were established by the legislation.

Maybe I could outline it for you this way. There were really multiple tasks that had to get done within basically 1 year of passage of this legislation. First, we had to strengthen the existing system of security which had been run by the airlines at airports, take that over and operate it ourselves. In February 2002, we actually assumed the operating responsibility for the third-party screeners that had previously worked for the airlines.

Next, we had to figure out what we needed to do and how to build a fully federalized system. We had 2 major objectives and some 36 other subsidiary performance requirements in the bill. We met every one of them on time and on schedule as was required. But it was not the law that was driving this; it was the reality that we needed to improve the system. We had a law and we were going to comply with the law, but we also had the broader change, the security threat, that we were trying to contend with.

So we had to figure out how to do it, how to create a new agency, where a year from passage we had made all federal employees -- the security system that would be new and wholly run by a federal workforce, and by December 31st we had to have explosive detection systems in place at every airport in the country, some 442 airports. So we had to figure out how to create a new system.

We then had to begin the process of actually building the new system and making it work. So we were doing these multiple large tasks all at one time: improving what we had, taking over the new system that the airlines had previously run, making it work better, design and build a new system, and then actually build it and deploy it.

Mr. Abel: The challenge in that is certainly unheralded, particularly considering you had to do that under a great deal of press scrutiny and under the watchful eye of the flying public. What were some of the lessons that you learned in the initial start-up of the organization? What are some of the things that were really maybe not obvious as you started but became very clear as you moved forward?

Mr. Jackson: At the very beginning, Secretary Mineta met with the President and we went over and talked to the President 10 days after passage and laid out a process of how the Secretary was going to manage our way through this challenge. It was really drawn from how you manage a large merger or acquisition in the private sector, how you take large organizations and create them or merge existing ones. So there are tools to track, monitor, measure, assess performance. We had the mother of all charts that simply laid out what you had to do by when and the subsidiary goals that would drive you to a successful conclusion on the date that you had to get there. So we spent a fair bit of time up front trying to understand that. But, really, at the very beginning we laid out a method for doing that, and the method we stuck to, and it worked.

Mr. Abel: In the last segment, we talked a little bit about your personal background and the time that you spent in the private sector. I know that the TSA depended on and worked with the private sector in a way that is different for the government. Can you tell us a little bit about how the private sector participated in the start up of the TSA and of what value that was to you in successfully meeting the milestones in the manner in which you did?

Mr. Jackson: That's a great question, Dave, and it's really part of the fundamental key to our success in building the new organization. So many people in America wanted to help work on this problem, wanted to help make security better, wanted to try to work this threat and make it possible to respond to it in an effective and efficient fashion. One example of such a person is an individual that I had known for many years who had worked in the Reagan White House, who had been the CEO of a global logistics supply chain management company. He called up after 9-11 and said I've talked to my family, he lived in California, I'd be happy to come out and just take off from my job and do anything that I could do to help you.

Kip Holly (?) was his name, and he became the first person that we hired to help us architect how to do this prior to the actual passage of the legislation. We subsequently built a team of people around him by calling some of the most successful and effective organizations in the country. We had borrowed from the Intel the guy who had managed the Y2K problem for them. We borrowed a wonderful woman from Fleur (?), a group president who had managed significant overseas construction and expansion work of facilities domestically. We borrowed a customer service person from Marriott to make sure that as we built an organization, we were listening to our customers and measuring success. We borrowed from Federal Express a fellow who had helped build their ground network and was an engineer with tremendous organizational skills. We brought (inaudible) judge in from Solectron so that we could from the very beginning build an organization from scratch that had quality process management tools imbedded in its DNA from the outset.

So we built a team of about nine such loaned executives who served from 4 months to a year, and we bolted them to people from all around the government, the best people we could find, and people swarmed around this problem from multiple agencies to help us work it. So it was in my view this combination of private-sector skills and public-sector experienced focused in a ruthless and relentless fashion on meeting the objectives that really helped us meet it. It was a crazy culture marriage at the outset as you might imagine, but at the end you couldn't tell the difference between the folks who had come from the defense department, the justice department, the treasury department, or the transportation department, from those who had signed up to come from a consulting firm or a large corporation to do the job. At the end, they were like brothers in war all working side by side.

Mr. Lawrence: What was the feedback from the loaned executives of working in government?

Mr. Jackson: To a single individual, I believe every one would say it was one of the best and most satisfying professional things that they had ever done. They're having withdrawal pains going back to the normal world in some cases, I think.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. We have to go to a break. Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue our conversation with Michael Jackson of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

This is The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Michael Jackson. Michael is the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Joining in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Michael, earlier in the last segment you were talking about your day on 9/11 and how it ended in the evening. So I was sort of curious, as you all gathered together, what happened?

Mr. Jackson: Secretary Mineta brought his team together, Paul, to inventory the things that we needed to do and the things that we knew, the things that we didn't know, and make assignments about how to proceed. That took a fair bit of time. We met with airline officials by telephone to assess on an hour-by-hour basis what was happening and how we would get the system back up. We had never turned it off, and now we had aircraft scattered from Canada to bases in the Midwest that nobody had ever expected to land at.

So that planning began in earnest that afternoon and evening, but I do remember one story which I'll share with you. When the Secretary got back to his office after the meetings and I was in there with him for a little bit, we came to identify something that we called the pizza parlor dilemma. At that time we were standing by his windows and saw the metallic glow of the Pentagon still on fire with the smoke, looking out of windows, still drifting across National Airport, now closed and darkened. The pizza parlor problem for us was taken from a tragic event, which now has become insanely all too common in the Mideast. A guy strapped a bomb to himself and went into a pizza parlor in Israel, blew up the pizza parlor, and blew up men, women, and children along with it.

So the question is, how do you manage that type of world? How do you manage security in that type of world? What it comes down to is not a question of eliminating vulnerabilities, but managing vulnerabilities. You balance openness and the need to move people and goods through our system with the mandate, the necessity to improve security, and it is always a balancing act. Do you close all pizza parlors, or do you close all airports? Do you hand-search every individual coming into a restaurant or to an airport? There are ways to make the security equation go much higher up the comfort scale, but in doing so we lose fundamental mobility and freedoms which are things to balance and treasure.

So that dilemma we concluded that night would be with us for the duration of our time as stewards at the Department with our management team, and that has proved to be vibrantly true.

Mr. Lawrence: One of the more immediate challenges after this was to open the airports because they were closed, and people were clamoring to do it. What were the issues surrounding that, and how did that decision work its way out?

Mr. Jackson: There were many, many things that we didn't know that day, that night, the next morning, about whether or not terrorists might be planning to attack in a second wave, who was on flights that were stopped before they reached their final destination. Were those individuals doing to be back on the plane the next day and taking an attack to the cockpit once again? So we had to assess all the security measures that we could put in place at airports to evaluate who was getting on airplane show we were going to keep them safe.

We put in place a slew of temporary rules some of which became permanent, many of which became permanent, about how to screen people, what was allowed on airplanes, what we would do to try to diminish the risk, and find that balancing point. Some things were terrificly insightful from our team that pulled together at first. Some were terrificly stupid. In fact, later, we ended up with an exercise which we called the stupid rule exercise, which was to go back and take off the shelf things that we had done at the beginning with imperfect knowledge. So I think it's the constant reassessment and balancing that began that night, to find that dilemma of the balance and how to manage it going forward.

Mr. Abel: In dealing with that dilemma, there needs to be a balance between what you can do through policy and what you can do through the behaviors of individuals in the field. Through the things that you've done at TSA, how have you balanced out the responsibility and the authority of the people who are doing the screening, versus what's set centrally in the policies that are developed to be able to protect us against our vulnerabilities?

Mr. Jackson: Dave, it's a good question. It's a hard balancing act, and a difficult one to answer in many ways. We ran at it from different angles. We had to have a very centralized agenda of how to roll out what would become a screening work force of some roughly 60,000 individuals. We created a new federal air marshal program from scratch, basically. We had 32 air marshals on September 11th; today we have many thousands of air marshals. So we had to be able to manage that centrally to make it happen and work. At the same time, we had to have a centralized empowerment for the local airport security forces to be able to do their jobs.

One of the early things we did is we went out and hired a very successful private-sector headhunting firm to help us recruit the top 100 or so security directors at the major airports. We found phenomenal people stepping up all across America, Ike Richardson in Chicago, who had been an aircraft carrier commander, a major city police chief that took over in Hartsfield, career FBI agents, career law-enforcement people, career security people, stepping up to do a job that was going to be full of hassles and lots of challenges but was just vitally important. So we recruited this team of really good people and we tried to train them and equip them with skills, and at the end of the day we're going to rely on their discretion a lot to manage things on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. Abel: You've mentioned the work that you did both between the public and private sectors, and you've mentioned the work that you did as far as being able to bring on some key leadership. What was necessary to establish a culture and a management culture that had the ability to be able to succeed when public consensus was that there was no way that the organization could achieve what had been prescribed in the law? Somehow you managed to. What were the cultural aspects that allowed you to do that?

Mr. Jackson: We hung a metaphorical sign on everybody's forehead that said "Bureaucratic Thinking Not Allowed," and we challenged people to be nimble and innovative in looking at how to do things. We had radically different and more aggressive procurement tools that we used. Congress gave us that tool and we used it fully. But we put a focus on trying to think through to the bottom of how you do things.

Then it's again this story, without sounding corny, all around America, people stepped up to the plate. This is not about some man or woman figured out how to do all of this, it was how you created this culture. At the beginning we looked to the Coast Guard that has this phenomenal group of men and women that go in harm's way and was a central part of the Department and said to them, how do we import your culture? So we imported some of their people and we talked about culture and how you build, train, retrain, test, and measure success and performance. Then all around the country people just bellied up to the bar and came to do this.

Can I tell you a little story about Melanie McCann (?)?

Mr. Abel: Please.

Mr. Jackson: After several months of building this new organization, we started to hire people who would train security screening trainers around the country. We got 600 of them in Oklahoma, recruited them very carefully, trained them very carefully, and then sent them around to be the cornerstone of the training teams we put in place around the country.

Deputy secretaries run around and do a lot of things. I was going around giving a grant one day in April 2002 as we had just begun this process. I got on a little regional jet to come home and somebody was sitting in my seat. I said, excuse me, ma'am, I went to the back of the plane, row 13, last row, and said, you're in my seat, I'm in 13-A, and she was in 13-B as it turns out. So as things happen on the airplane, we got to talking, I initially somewhat reluctantly. She was going to Virginia; I was, too. She was going because she had a new job. I said that was great. She was a little nervous about flying. I said I wasn't.

Then she said, yeah, " got a new job. I'm working for the Transportation Security Administration." I dropped my books. I looked at her and I said, "No kidding." This was the first one I'd ever met that wasn't in my office. This was a wonderful story. She told me about why she signed up and what she did. She said, "I wanted to be a Marine," and she had a little physical disability that prevented her from doing that. She didn't graduate from high school and went and got a GED. She was raising a couple of kids by herself, working very hard, and she said, "You know, Mr. Jackson, it's really tough in these airports. People get grumpy." And she said, "When I feel like I'm about to get grumpy, I just sort of turn around and I look down that concourse and I see people walking away from my screening checkpoint and I say to myself if I do my job right, that man or that woman is going to get home to their son or their daughter or their mother or their spouse tonight." And she said, "I feel really great about doing that."

Well, guys, I could have flown home that night without the airplane, I felt so good about what Melanie McCann represented and what we were attracting into this new organization. I've been around the country to airports, small and large, and they're chock full of people like Melanie.

Mr. Lawrence: That's a good stopping point. Rejoin us in a few minutes as we continue our conversation with Michael Jackson.

This is The Business of Government Hour.


Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to The Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, and this morning's conversation is with Michael Jackson. Michael is the deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Joining us in our conversation is Dave Abel.

Michael, earlier you've expressed a great deal of pride in the speed by which things were accomplished, people were hired, procurements were done. It almost begs the question about the value of the rules that sometimes seem to prevent that from happening. I'm curious as you look back, how you put those two together.

Mr. Jackson: The statute that created the TSA gave us some unique flexibility in managing government. One of the things we discovered along the way is that there was a lot of flexibility in the way we could do this without those specific grants of authority. So I think that within DOT, the experience of trying to do things quickly but well has improved our performance, delivery, and thinking about how to do our normal work better and fast. And we don't have to sacrifice quality when we get speed, we have to be able to listen well at our rule-making processes and just get on with it. Sometimes it's a question of just forcing decisions and getting it done.

Mr. Abel: Secretary Ridge is faced with the challenge of starting up another new organization. What lessons can you share from your start-up of the Transportation Security Administration that may help for the formulation of the Department of Homeland Security?

Mr. Jackson: I think that the country is just tremendously lucky to have Secretary Ridge at the helm of this new department. It's a daunting task, but the President was absolutely right to try to aggregate these assets into one place and then to give such a capable fellow the tools to try to help focus security planning.

Secretary Ridge had the benefit of being the homeland security adviser to the President while we went through this process. He was intimately involved in many of the policy issues associated with standing up TSA, and so he knows those lessons, as do a number of folks on his senior team. So I think that we did have some lessons learned that can be valuable to him. I'm certain that they have internalized some of those already, and they'll face new and unique challenges on their own which they'll grapple with and manage effectively as well.

Mr. Abel: The experiences you've had within the Department as TSA has moved over clearly have an effect on how the Department gets managed and the culture and personality of the organization that remains within the Department of Transportation. What are some of the lessons learned in impacts of having done the work you've done with TSA now that that has moved over to DHS?

Mr. Jackson: That's exactly right. The experience of managing the stand-up of this 65,000-person organization in a short period of time really galvanized the entire management team of the Department around new skill sets and I would say a sort of shared mission of what we're going to do in life. So I'm hoping that we can take lessons learned back into the Department and focus this same type of intensity, passion, outside-the-box thinking, and rigor at the work that we have.

Most importantly for us is the safety mission which is still the cornerstone mission of transportation, to make sure that planes, trains, trucks, cars, ships on the seas, are all moving in a safe manner, that we have the type of regulatory regime and the tools and processes to make sure that safety is our foremost priority.

Mr. Abel: What are some of the initiatives that you see in the coming years through the Department that will address the very real concerns of safety in our transportation?

Mr. Jackson: I think probably the most important one is trying to reduce highway fatalities. It is a tragic story in the country, every year we are losing some 42,000 lives, at an expense of some $230 billion in highway fatalities and accidents. We can do much better, and we need to bring the sort of moral focus, high purpose, intelligence, and intellect that we're bringing to the security issues to this national safety challenge.

In California, for example, they have a 91 percent seat belt usage rate. In the country at large, it's about 25 percent of the people who don't use seat belts. We can try to work this problem through primary seat belt laws, inducements that will help states put in place the tools to make this work. It doesn't have to be a "Big Brother." We don't have to club people with a stick to make them do the right thing, but we have to put focus and energy into this problem. It's a tremendously important thing for the country.

Mr. Abel: The Department has a unique relationship with many stakeholders, transportation service providers, and it certainly is a fact that a lot of these transportation providers are in very tough economic circumstances. Has that had any change on the relationship with the stakeholders that you have from the Department of Transportation? Do you relate with them differently because of the circumstances that they find themselves in today?

Mr. Jackson: Sure. It means that in many cases there is a much more intensive and routine back and forth of what's happening in their businesses so that we can understand that and reflect that into the general policy deliberations in Washington. Whether it's the airline industry or the motor carrier industry or the railroad industry, the maritime world, we have a tremendous number of ongoing relationships. Some formal, advisory committees that come help us figure out what to do and how to do our work better, and many informal conversations, regulatory actions in which they have an opportunity to address particular policy issues for the Department. So it's multiple avenues worked routinely.

Many times, we find points of agreement, many times we find points of disagreement, but we have to keep whacking way at it and talking routinely, especially in difficult economic times.

Mr. Abel: What's the Department's responsibility for making sure that those difficult economic times do not impact on the ability of the transportation service providers to operate in a safe manner, to tie together the economics and the focus of the Department moving forward with safety?

Mr. Jackson: We operate in a deregulated environment for transportation. It is not our job to set prices, routes, and make fundamental business decisions. That's what the free-market economy is supposed to do well. It is our job to establish a framework of safety and to make certain that it's being implemented regularly.

For example, in the airline industry, we want to make certain that carriers who are facing stresses on the bottom line are putting the safety plans in place. I'll tell you that they have come to us understanding that that's a legitimate concern and said let us show you how we are separating the budgets, staff, and people that have to do this function from these other external influences, and let us show you our programs and we'll monitor that, evaluate that, work with them, to make certain that we are not sacrificing the safety mission in a period of financial stress.

Mr. Lawrence: Let me ask that same question and go back to the seat belt conversation about safety. What's the role of the Department, and how do you think about the framework in this context? You characterize you don't want to be "Big Brother," so there is a personal freedom element. Some would say that safety on the highways might be better off if cars were designed differently, if speeds were slower and the like. So there are a lot of different perspectives on that. How do you navigate where the Department comes out on that?

Mr. Jackson: You have to take it like a classic business problem, divide it into the component parts and do what you can with each component in a way that understands that you don't control the whole game, but you are a convener, a vision-setter, and an assist in doing some of the retail work that has to be done on the ground. So we have a program called Click It Or Ticket, which helps the law-enforcement community enforce seat belt laws and educates the public about seat belt laws. The President's budget for 2004, the next fiscal year, includes some significant financial rewards for states who will improve performance, a bottom-line measurement, can you get your seat belt usage up? That's the fundamentally most important thing that will drive the fatality rates down. And we're willing to put money against that when people perform. If they are willing to pass a primary seat belt law, which is one of the things that brings seat belt usage up in a predictable and routine fashion, then we want to be able to give them some support for doing that. If they find another way to get the seat belt usage up without the primary seat belt law, we'll give them the support as well.

So I think our job is to find multiple tools and work the various problems. Some of them are vehicle problems, some of them are road design problems, some of them are seat belts, some of it's impaired driving. You have to take each of these complex series of variables and work each one with a different set.

I'll give you one real great success story in this. A couple of years back, it was an accepted fact that among different racial groups there were variable levels of usage of seat belts. We took that problem on board, began to work it hard, and we were just able to report that that gap had narrowed and that race was no longer such an important division in the seat belt usage issue. So that's a good case of something where we worked a problem by working with specific communities on education, provided some help there and made a difference.

So we have a lot more to do here, a lot more to do. There are just so many tragedies that can be avoided if people just buckle up, and we're going to try to help get that message across as much as we can.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm curious, Michael, you've had a unique perspective and unique experiences in the last couple of years. What advice would you give to somebody interested in a career in the public sector?

Mr. Jackson: Do it, go for it, try it. You don't have to make yourself a lifetime of work in the public sector, I've bounced in and out between public and private, and I think that's a valuable thing. And so I tell young men and women do something for public service, do something that's stepping outside of yourself maybe for a year, or for 2 years, for 5 years, you may find you stay your whole career in it. But it could be working for nonprofits, it could be working for a state government, it could be working for the federal government, but I think this public service is a cornerstone of what makes the Republic strong, and it's a good thing.

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

Mr. Jackson: Paul and Dave, thank you so much. I enjoyed it.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Michael Jackson, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Be sure and visit us on the web at There, you can learn more about our programs and research, and you can also get a transcript of today's very interesting conversation. Again, that's

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

Michael Jackson interview
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