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Vice Admiral Robert B. Murrett: Advancing Geospatial Intelligence across the Intelligence Community

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009 - 11:19
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The end of the Cold War marked the dawn of a new era in global security. It brought with it a time of tumultuous change in the U.S. intelligence community. September 11th further prompted the U.S.

A Conversation with Paul R. Brubaker: Administrator, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008 - 15:00
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The constant and efficient movement of people and goodsacross the U.S. and around the globe is critical to theeconomy and our lives. Today, our vital transportation infrastructure

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.

Ron DeHaven interview

Friday, December 10th, 2004 - 20:00
Phrase: 
"Agricultural trade is critical to our economy. Our role is to ensure that agricultural exports and products imported abroad are safe and not a risk to trade partners. Potential health and pest risks are becoming the limiting issues within trade."
Radio show date: 
Sat, 12/11/2004
Guest: 
Intro text: 
Missions and Programs...
Missions and Programs
Complete transcript: 

Monday, November 1, 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 ways to improving government performance. Learn more about The Center by visiting us at businessofgovernment.org.

The Business of Government Radio Show Hour features a conversation with a government executive who is changing the way government does business. Our special guest this morning is Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Good morning, Dr. DeHaven.

Dr. DeHaven: Good morning. Thank you for having me on your show.

Mr. Lawrence: And joining us in our conversation, also from IBM, is Mike Wasson.

Good morning, Mike.

Mr. Wasson: Good morning, Paul. Thank you for being here.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, Dr. DeHaven, let's start by learning more about APHIS. Could you tell us about the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, and its role within USDA?

Dr. DeHaven: Certainly. Our motto within APHIS is "Safeguarding American Agriculture," which I think really speaks to what we do. We're responsible for ensuring safe and healthy agricultural products, both on the plant and animal side. Indeed, Secretary Veneman at one point had made reference that if she were starting to rebuild the USDA all over again, she would start with the foundation, that being APHIS. We have several program units within the agency -- veterinary services, plant protection quarantine, biotechnology regulatory services, wildlife services, international services, and animal care -- all of which speak to the specific roles we have in a very broad mission area.

Mr. Lawrence: How do you describe the size? I mean, you've gone through a wide range of programs. Could you tell us about the budget, and even the skills of the people on your team?

Dr. DeHaven: In terms of the budget, it's actually grown quite dramatically. In Fiscal Year '01, we had an appropriation, or appropriated budget, of $445 million. The President's budget for Fiscal Year '05 is $828 million. That, taken along with the frequent apportionment of monies for emergency purposes, which in the last few years have averaged at about $250 million a year, we're basically a billion-dollar agency.

In terms of numbers of people, there again, the numbers vary depending on what you're looking at. In terms of full-time permanent employees, we're somewhere in excess of 4,000 employees, but when also including Foreign Service national employees around the world and temporary employees that we hire, we're in excess of 7,000 people.

Mr. Lawrence: And the skills of these folks?

Dr. DeHaven: Wide variety, as you might guess, given the program units that we have in the agency. On the plant side, we have plant pathologists and botanists. On the animal health side, veterinarians and epidemiologists. We employ wildlife biologists, biotechnologists, program analysts, economists. We have a public affairs staff with several public affairs specialists and writer/editors, and then also, because of the monies that we involve, contracting specialists and financial managers.

Mr. Wasson: Well, Dr. DeHaven, can you share with us your roles and responsibilities as administrator for APHIS?

Dr. DeHaven: I look at my job as providing the vision and leadership for this agency; ensuring that we have the resources, both human and financial, to carry out our mission; and then represent the agency in a variety of situations, both internally and externally.

Mr. Wasson: In April of 2004, you became administrator of APHIS. Can you tell us a little bit about the background before you became administrator?

Dr. DeHaven: Well, I graduated from veterinary school, Purdue University, in 1975, and actually went to school with the intent of being a small animal, dog and cat practitioner. I did four years with the Army Veterinary Corps, which I found very rewarding, and during that period also gained some clinical practice experience. But at the end of my tenure in the Army, I was intrigued by government service, and actually then took my first job with the government in APHIS in 1979. I spent the first six years of my career, which I think was very valuable, in the field as a field veterinary medical officer dealing with primarily livestock disease issues.

From there, I moved into a middle management position as the assistant area veterinarian in charge in our state of Mississippi. And then, four years after that, started a 12-year stint in our animal care program, overseeing administration of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act. It was then about four years ago that I came back to our veterinary services unit as the deputy administrator of that organization and, of course, have been the administrator now for two years.

So I think what I find most interesting is that I went to veterinary school with the intent of being a dog and cat practitioner, now find myself as a Washington bureaucrat with far more reaching implications and responsibilities when it comes to both animal and plant health, and enjoying myself as a Washington bureaucrat, something that back in 1975, I would never have imagined happening.

Mr. Wasson: You have an interesting background, where you have both a doctor of veterinary medicine and an MBA. How did you combine your two degrees for maximum effectiveness in the work environment?

Dr. DeHaven: As I mentioned with my veterinary degree, I think that degree has opened up a wide array of opportunities, both from clinical medicine to being a Washington bureaucrat. The master's in business administration came at a time when I had made the career decision that I wanted to stay with government and focus on management of programs and people. I realized at the time, and actually fully came to realize during the course of obtaining that degree, that we need to market ourselves and run our government agencies like business runs itself. And so I think through both degrees, the doctor of veterinary medicine and the MBA, I've had the technical background, the technical experience, but also now the management experience to provide oversight and leadership for a government agency and focus on running government like a business.

Mr. Lawrence: I'd like to pick up on that point where you talked about getting an MBA, when you began to understand the importance of management. What was it like as you were transitioning from a doer, when you were describing, you know, providing services to animals as a veterinarian, and to becoming a manager? Could you take us through that?

Dr. DeHaven: I think before that, Paul, I even realized that while the private veterinary practitioner certainly has some strong and influential impact on families and individual animals, by working with a government agency, we actually have tremendous impacts on population of animals. And so that's where I wanted to take my career was in veterinary medicine, but looking at a broader picture, recognizing that animal agriculture has tremendous implications for our economy and for the health and well-being of a large number of animals as well as the basis for employment of many people in this country. So I recognized the potential there; had also had a taste as a middle management of managing people and managing programs and enjoyed that as well.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, tell us about some of the differences in terms of your training as a veterinarian and then what you began doing as a manager. One of the things I'm drawn to is sort of the size of the groups of people you dealt with. I imagine, from having animals, that a veterinarian experiences one-on-one, and generally, the customers don't complain very much, I imagine, and now you're with much broader teams of people that you have to influence. Tell us about some of the differences in the training.

Dr. DeHaven: You know, ultimately, Paul, it comes down to dealing with people one-on-one and having interpersonal skills, whether you're dealing with that pet owner or a herd owner whose herd of cattle has just been recently diagnosed with brucellosis. From there, you take it to my current position, where typically, I'm working one-on-one with individuals who represent larger, broader constituencies. At the end of the day, it's interpersonal skills and working one-on-one with people. It's just the stakes on different -- whether we're talking about an individual animal or an individual herd of animals versus populations of animals. At the end of the day, it's a matter of employing good common sense and having the interpersonal skills to explain your situation and your position.

Mr. Lawrence: And how about the speed of decisions and the things you can make an impact on? I imagine it must have been very rewarding to you to work one-on-one in a small setting and solve a problem with an animal, and see that work its way out, and now to think about solving something in a population seems much hard and would take more time.

Dr. DeHaven: I think that for the most part is very true. When you're dealing with an individual animal, oftentimes, it's life-and-death situations and decisions need to be made very quickly. On the other hand, when you're dealing with populations and diseases and disease programs that have broad implications for a large population of people and a larger population of animals, typically that decision-making process is much slower, requires a transparent and open process that allows the public and all stakeholders to have an input on that decision. That's how government does work and should work, and we certainly emphasize having an open and transparent process.

Not everyone is cut out for that kind of work. Bureaucracies are intended to be somewhat inefficient, so that they provide that opportunity for everyone to have input. It's something that you develop a skill and ability to work within our system, which, again, by some accounts is intended to be somewhat inefficient in that it does provide for broad constituencies to have input.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting. As I think about you getting an MBA and your point about, you know, making government act more like a business, and you talked about the need for inefficiencies, are there any other places that you've noticed where it almost shouldn't run like a business?

Dr. DeHaven: Well, we don't have a bottom line, per se, to worry about in government in terms of having to generate revenue. Rather, making the best use of taxpayers' dollars that are appropriated by Congress or otherwise made available to us. But whether you generate a revenue or have an appropriation, it's getting the most bang for your buck, making sure that how you use that money is used efficiently and effectively. In our case, it's for the public in general as opposed to private business, where you have that customer that you're trying to give them the most benefit for their dollar spent.

Mr. Lawrence: That's an interesting point, especially about the need for openness and transparency.

We're all aware of mad cow disease. How are we tracking and testing for this disease? We'll ask Dr. Ron DeHaven of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to tell us about this 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 Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

And joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.

Well, Dr. DeHaven, let's talk about mad cow disease. And with the scare of the disease entering in the United States, how is APHIS able to track and test cattle for the disease?

Dr. DeHaven: Well, we have actually been testing cattle for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE, since 1990, increasing every year the number of animals that we test. In 2002/2003, we tested some 20,000 animals. And these are animals for what we consider to be the high-risk or target population, meaning that if we do have the disease, these would be the animals that would be most likely to test positive, some 30 times more likely than the average adult cow in our population.

Because of the recent cases in North America, both of them native born in Canada, but one found in the U.S., we have entered into an enhanced surveillance program beginning June 1st of this year. Since June 1st, we have tested somewhere in the neighborhood of 98,000 animals in this high-risk or target population. And of course, all of them thus far have been negative.

Our goal is, during a 12-month period, we want to test a statistically significant number that would, if we have the disease in the U.S., even at a prevalence as low as 1 animal out of 10 million that's positive, that we would find the disease. So our goal is, during this 12-month period, to test somewhere in excess of 250,000 animals, and then can say with some degree of statistical significance whether or not we have the disease, and, if so, at what prevalence.

Mr. Lawrence: Take our listeners through the process of testing. You describe statistics, so I have a picture in my mind of sampling, much like we would anything else, and then running the tests. And so I'm curious, is that right? And just what does the test entail?

Dr. DeHaven: That is correct, Paul. We, unfortunately, don't have any live animal tests available to us at this point in time. There's no blood test. In fact, the test involves getting a piece of tissue from a very specific section of the brain, in the brain stem. So we're collecting these samples from animals that have died on the farm, have gone to slaughter, or otherwise would be animals that have died or are destined to be slaughtered.

We're picking these samples up off of animals that die on the farm. Typically, they're sent to a rendering plant, and we collect the tissues at rendering. Some animals that become nonambulatory at slaughter, they go down, if you will, and are not allowed into the human food chain, we test those animals as well, but also animals that are going to public health laboratories and state diagnostic veterinary laboratories, animals that are showing some central nervous system disorder.

So after the animal dies or is otherwise selected for testing and is euthanized, this portion of the brain, a small piece of tissue, is taken from that section of the brain and then it's subjected to one of half a dozen different tests that we've approved for this purpose. These are rapid screening tests.

So the samples are collected at slaughter plants, rendering plants, diagnostic laboratories, and then that sample is shipped to one of seven laboratories around the country where this testing is done. If any of the animals or tests come up anything other than negative on one of those screening tests, then it goes to our national reference laboratory, that's our National Veterinary Services laboratories in Ames, Iowa, for confirmatory testing.

Mr. Lawrence: Are there steps to implement measures and risk assessments for better effectiveness of tracking disease? As we were preparing, I was reading about the animal registry program.

Dr. DeHaven: The animal registry, I assume, Paul, you're talking about our National Animal Identification System, which is the system that we are currently developing that would provide for some kind of electronic identification on every animal, livestock species of animals, in the country. It's almost ironic in that because of the recent finding of the BSE case in the state of Washington, we're on an accelerated path to implement this national animal identification. And ironic in that BSE is a non-contagious disease, so it's one that we have the luxury of a matter of days or even weeks to trace animals.

On the other hand, if we were to have a highly contagious disease enter the United States, such as foot-and-mouth disease, we would need to be able to track animals in a matter of hours in order to be able to contain and, hopefully, eventually eradicate that kind of disease that might be introduced into the United States. So while certainly animal identification on every animal in the country would be useful for a number of domestic disease programs that we have ongoing, certainly in terms of our BSE testing program, it would be critical to have that kind of system in place were we to have the introduction of a highly contagious foreign animal disease.

he system that we're implementing would then involve electronic identification on the animal, and there's a number of different technologies that can be used, such as radio frequency, ID microchips. But the idea would be that in a maximum of 48 hours, we could trace animals that were infected or had been exposed to infected animals.

Mr. Wasson: Well, Dr. DeHaven, recently APHIS partnered up with the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency on developing a single portal on agricultural biotechnology regulations, which is usbiotechreg.nbii.gov. Can you tell us how this came about and what this site offers?

Dr. DeHaven: Well, the three agencies that are involved in regulating agricultural biotechnology APHIS, Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, and EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency all have very distinct and different roles. But the public really wants one site where they can go to to answer all of their questions, regardless of which agency might have specific regulatory authority. So we worked with our colleagues at FDA and EPA as well as the White House's Office of Science Technology Policy to develop this website. As with all of our regulatory programs, our goal is to be open and very transparent in the process so that we can have a coordinated and risk-based approach.

I think biotechnology represents some unique challenges, in that we walk a very thin tightrope in terms of ensuring that we have adequate regulations to ensure protection of the public and the environment, but, at the same time, not over-regulating to the extent that we unduly restrict growth in an industry that has so much to offer to society.

Mr. Wasson: Well, earlier this year, USDA and APHIS will prepare an evaluation of its biotechnology regulations and several possible regulation changes, including the development of a multi-tiered risk-based permitting system and the enhancements of the deregulation process to provide flexibility for long-term monitoring. How is this process coming along, and what impacts does this have on the stakeholders?

Dr. DeHaven: Mike, you're right. In January of this year, we published a notice of intent in the Federal Register and said in this notice that we plan to prepare an environmental impact statement, or EIS, to consider possible changes to our biotechnology regulations. Through the EIS and a change in regulations, it would provide for a multi-tiered system that would provide some flexibility in the commercialization process for biotechnology products, genetically engineered products, and provide for new policies in field testing, for example, for pharmaceutical plants, plants that are genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutical compounds or other industrial compounds, as well as providing a mechanism for dealing with adventitious presence. That would be the presence of genetically modified organisms in organisms that are thought to be or expected to be non-genetically modified.

Before even starting this process, however, we met with stakeholders and got their input and, through this notice of an intent to prepare an environmental impact statement, received over 3,000 public comments. We've reviewed and considered those comments, and we are currently in the process of writing this environmental impact statement, the impact that new regulations might have. The public will once again have an opportunity to comment on this EIS. And then ultimately, we would be publishing a proposed rule, once again for public comment. So again, emphasizing our open and transparent process in developing any new regulations.

Mr. Wasson: In the wake of terrorist attacks against the U.S., bioterrorism has been of a great concern. For instance, the Bush Administration passed the Agricultural Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002 and the Homeland Security Act of 2002. What is APHIS's part against bioterrorism?

Dr. DeHaven: It's been part of our responsibility in APHIS to respond to the introduction of foreign animal, plants and plant diseases, and pests as well as animal diseases. So we have considered ourselves for several decades to be first responders when there is an accidental introduction of a plant disease or a pest or an animal disease.

What has changed obviously with the recent times, most notably since 9/11, is the recognition or realization that we not only are vulnerable to an accidental introduction of pest or disease, we've vulnerable to an intentional introduction, an introduction that could have far-reaching implications for the economy of the United States. So we have renewed and emphasized our role not just in dealing with domestic disease programs, but in terms of response to the introduction of a foreign animal disease or a plant pest and disease, recognizing that that could be an intentional introduction.

We have worked closely with FEMA to develop what's called an emergency support function for agriculture, ESF-11. APHIS has the lead in that, meaning that just like FEMA has a responsibility to respond to natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes, the FEMA function would also apply to an agricultural emergency such as an unexpected or intentionally introduced foreign animal disease or a plant disease. So through this emergency support function and working with FEMA, APHIS would have the lead in responding to an agricultural emergency, but through FEMA would have all of the resources of the federal government at our disposal to deal with that kind of situation.

APHIS is also the lead agency for the agricultural component of the Bioterrorism Protection Act of 2002, where we have worked very closely with CDC in coming up with a program to ensure that university laboratories and private laboratories that are dealing with agents that could have a bioterrorist use, that there are proper controls and inventory of those kinds of agents. We refer to them as select agents.

We actually have a liaison person with APHIS who works at CDC, who works with them on issues that would affect both animals and plants, zoonotic disease, if you will, as well as any bioterrorist agent that would have not just human health, but also animal health implications.

Mr. Lawrence: How is e-government being used to streamline processes at APHIS? We'll ask Dr. Ron DeHaven, its administrator, to tell us about this 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 Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

And joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.

Well, Dr. DeHaven, the scope of APHIS's protection has expanded beyond pest and disease management. APHIS has assumed greater roles in the global agricultural arena. What management challenges has this presented for the leadership of APHIS?

Dr. DeHaven: Paul, thank you for the question. And we're realizing more since 9/11 than ever before that our first line of defense, speaking from an agricultural perspective, is not at our ports and borders, but rather overseas. We don't want to wait until potentially harmful diseases, agricultural diseases, or pests are at our borders to exclude them, but rather have people offshore who realize and are our eyes and ears in terms of what threats are out there, and keeping those kinds of things from ever entering our ports and borders. That's our first line of defense, is offshore.

But APHIS is always walking a tightrope in terms of safeguarding American agriculture, but also facilitating trade. Agricultural trade is critical to the economy of our country. So our role is to ensure that those products that we import from abroad as well as our agricultural exports are safe and don't represent any risk to our trading partners. As we enter into more and more trade agreements with our trading partners where historically trade has been restricted by quotas and tariffs, now what's becoming a limiting factor is what we call the sanitary/phytosanitary issues, those issues that represent potential health and pest risks.

And so APHIS is becoming front and center in terms of -- it's those technical issues, the issues that are involved in safeguarding American agriculture, are the same ones that are limiting trade. So there's increasingly more and more emphasis and pressure on APHIS to resolve those technical barriers so that trade can continue unrestricted, but doing so in such a way that we don't jeopardize the health and safety of agriculture in the United States.

Mr. Wasson: Well, Dr. DeHaven, in the last segment, we have learned that APHIS has worked with many different agencies to develop informational websites and protecting U.S. agriculture. Are there any lessons learned and advice you would give on working and managing interagency?

Dr. DeHaven: I think there's one overriding thing, and that is that the administration, our Congress, and, probably more importantly, the public expect there to be interagency cooperation. They're not really concerned with whether there are two or three or four agencies that are involved in some area of oversight. They want to make sure that government agencies that have a role are working together and that there's a coordinated approach.

I was talking a minute ago about trade issues. And so APHIS has a critical role in facilitating trade, to the extent that there are technical issues, to make sure that we don't unintentionally export or import disease or pests. But to do that, we work very closely with the Foreign Agricultural Service, an agency within USDA, in establishing those trade policies and working with our trading partners around the world.

I think the BSE, or mad cow, situation is an excellent example of the need for interagency coordination. APHIS has a role in terms of surveillance of our live animal population. Food Safety Inspection Service, another agency within USDA, has a responsibility to ensure that the food produced from those animals is safe and wholesome. And our colleagues in FDA have some responsibility as relates to animal feed as well as cosmetics and other products that would be made from those animal products. The public, the department, indeed the Congress expect us to work very closely together in dealing with those issues that cross agency boundaries.

Mr. Wasson: Well, early in 2001, APHIS launched an e-gov initiative that streamlined its permit process and application online. What are some of the challenges with this launch?

Dr. DeHaven: In the context, Mike, of ensuring that we are user-friendly to our public, we want to provide the option for that public to request our services either through the traditional paper methods or electronically. For example, both our plant protection quarantine and veterinary services units have a permit process where one can apply for a permit that would allow for the movement of otherwise restricted materials into or out of the United States. Our biotechnology regulatory services unit also receives requests for permits for permitting the use or testing, field testing, of potential biotechnology products.

The challenge for us was to develop one coordinated system that met the needs of all of these different purposes and do so in a way that is user-friendly and not create a three separate system. So we have that traditional bureaucratic issue of getting the funding, getting approval for the system that we're developing, selecting a contractor, and then working closely with that contractor. But all of those things are coming together, and we would hope to pilot a project for this permitting system early next year.

Mr. Wasson: Are there any other e-gov initiatives on the way within APHIS?

Dr. DeHaven: Actually, there are several that we have underway, and our intent is to provide an electronic mechanism of any interaction that we would have with our public. Another example is that we license and register facilities under the Animal Welfare Act. This is primarily facilities that are involved in research or exhibition or the commercial sale of animals, and those types of facilities need to be either licensed or registered with us under the Animal Welfare Act. So rather than, here again, submitting a paper application for that kind of license or registration, we're developing a system to do that all electronically.

Mr. Lawrence: This naturally leads into a discussion of the President's Management Agenda. And could you tell us about APHIS's plans to action to implement the agenda? For example, one area of interest is the integration of performance and budget information.

Dr. DeHaven: Our mission goals in APHIS, Paul, are safeguarding American agriculture and facilitating trade. And as I've alluded to, those two goals can be a little bit of a conundrum in terms of competing interests; in terms of safeguarding agriculture, but at the same time facilitating trade and, in doing so, potentially running the risk of accidental introduction of pest or disease. So having said that, our pest and disease programs very readily lend themselves to a cost-benefit analysis. What's the program going to cost? What's the potential export or market that might be out there, or what is the value of that commodity to our own economy? And then doing a cost-benefit. Is the cost of that program going to yield potential benefits that will exceed those costs?

Here again, we also know that by instituting various plant and animal disease programs, we can improve our export markets. We can improve the exportability, if you will, of certain markets. And so is that potential market from a cost-benefit analysis greater than what the cost would be of implementing some of our programs? APHIS has actually scored very high within the Department on the OMB process to review program assessment, if you will, where we have scored high in terms of the value of our programs versus the return on that investment.

Mr. Wasson: How is APHIS making the adjustments on the move of its port-of-entry inspectors to the Department of Homeland Security?

Dr. DeHaven: We've gone through a very difficult transition. It was in March of last year that we transferred somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,600 agricultural quarantine inspectors to the new Department of Homeland Security. These 2,600 inspectors are the people at our ports and borders whose job it is to ensure that we don't inadvertently allow into the country prohibited products that might also harbor plant diseases or animal diseases. So it's been somewhat of a difficult transition for us to lose those inspectors while at the same time ensuring that they continue to have a very active role in performing that agricultural mission at our ports and borders.

We found newfound friends with our colleagues in the Customs and Border Protection, one of the major units within the Department of Homeland Security. And we think that through the creation of this new department and overseeing all of the inspection activities at the ports and borders, not just agricultural, but Customs inspections and immigration inspections, that there is ample opportunity for improvement, and at the end of the day, having a far better system. Our role is to continue to provide the policy and training for those inspectors at the ports and border, making sure that the agricultural mission remains very high on their priority list. And in order to do that, we've had a couple of initiatives underway.

We're working with our colleagues at DHS to have a quality assurance program to ensure that that inspection is happening as it should, but also that we've got good communication. Current issues, is there a new outbreak or a new situation that would cause us to send an alert to the ports and borders to be on the lookout for a particular commodity or a disease that might be presenting itself? Changes in policy -- and we continue to, again, provide the training for the agricultural inspectors, including the new agricultural specialist within the Department of Homeland Security. So we're developing a newfound friendship and relationship with our colleagues at DHS. And, again, I think that at the end of the day, there's a potential to have a much more effective system.

Mr. Lawrence: That's interesting, especially all the technology described that underpin the programs.

With all the technology being used today, how are skilled IT professionals being recruited and retained? We'll ask Dr. Ron DeHaven of APHIS to tell us about this 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 Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

And joining us in our conversation is Mike Wasson.

Mr. Wasson: Well, good morning. Dr. DeHaven, in the future what changes of shifts do you see in APHIS's role in protecting U.S. agriculture?

Dr. DeHaven: Mike, I think we're already seeing some of those shifts. We're seeing more new and emerging diseases in the last few years than we've ever seen before, and I think that's reflected in the apportionment of monies that we've received to respond to some of those new emergencies and emerging pests and diseases. During the eight-year period from 1993 to 2000, we spent some $475 million in responding to those kinds of plant and animal emergencies. In the last four years, that number has soared to $1.1 billion. So in half the time, we've spent twice the amount of money responding to some of the new and emerging plant and animal pests and diseases.

We've touched base already on the fact that as we enter into more trade agreements with our trading partners around the world, some of the technical issues to safeguard American agriculture are becoming those issues that are limiting trade, and so increasing pressure on APHIS to resolve those technical issues in a way that applies appropriate safeguards, but doesn't unduly restrict trade.

And then as we mentioned before, with the events of 9/11, the anthrax situation here in Washington, D.C., with the recognition with the foot-and-mouth disease in Europe that we, too, are vulnerable, we have an increasingly important homeland security role within USDA in general and APHIS in particular. I think we're realizing as an agency that emergencies are part of our norm. As we go about our day-to-day business, that's going to include responding to whatever the current emergency is, either on the plant or animal side or, heaven forbid, both of them.

Mr. Wasson: How does APHIS plan on integrating and protecting its science and technology infrastructure?

Dr. DeHaven: Mike, I think the credibility of our whole agency is that we are a science-based organization. We need to stay science-based and keep that as part of our roots. We have expanded, in fact, that science base in our agency, and I'll give a couple of examples.

Within our plant protection quarantine unit, we've created a Center for Plant Health Science and Technology. So as we're dealing with the domestic disease programs and coming up with new science-based ways of dealing with them, or have a trade issue that requires a science-based resolution, it's those scientists at CPHST, Center for Plant Health Science and Technology, that are responsible for coming up with those kinds of science-based resolutions. And on the animal side, a similar organization is called the Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health.

Clearly, when it comes to regulating biotechnology, we have to be science-based there. It's an evolving industry; the potential benefits are huge. We have to understand the science and ensure that our regulations are science-based.

Our wildlife services unit has gone from an organization that managed damage control on livestock to one that is really a wildlife disease management organization, employing a number of wildlife biologists to ensure that where there is interaction between wildlife and domestic livestock, we're appropriately managing the disease concerns there. So we are science-based, and our future credibility is dependent upon ensuring that we're employing the best science in our programs and activities.

Mr. Lawrence: Throughout our conversation this morning, you've talked an awful lot about very complicated programs: technological, statistical, and scientific. So let me ask you just about the employees who support you. Let's start with technology. How is the agency recruiting and retaining skilled IT workers?

Dr. DeHaven: Indeed. With all the program activities I've talked about, Paul, we couldn't carry out all those activities if we didn't have an excellent support staff, and we do, and that runs the gamut from our IT specialists to our financial managers. On the IT side, especially in the last couple of years, actually recruitment of good quality IT specialists has not been an issue for us. Typically when we put out an advertisement for a vacancy, we get a good number of applicants. And so I'm proud of the caliber and expertise of our IT specialists within the agency.

Having said that, I think that there is a couple of things that we can do, or several things that we can do if that becomes an issue in terms of providing financial incentives to attract some of those IT specialists. But I think even more fundamental than that is within APHIS, we have an organizational culture that values our employees and places high value on family values. So I think we're a family-friendly, employee-friendly organization, but we can also provide those kinds of financial incentives if need be.

Mr. Wasson: How is APHIS supporting agriculture trade between the U.S. and its trading partners?

Dr. DeHaven: Within our international services unit, we have a separate team we call the trade support team, which is really the interface between APHIS, our Foreign Agricultural Service, and the U.S. Trade Representative's Office, where we are collectively working on agricultural trade issues. I think especially in the last decade, trade has become increasingly important as we enter into all of these trade agreements. And the technical barriers to trade that APHIS is responsible for are becoming increasingly important. So we have this team of individuals with geographical responsibility around the world that deal specifically with those issues from a technical standpoint, but also serve as our liaison between other parts of government that are dealing with agricultural trade issues.

But we're also expanding our presence overseas. We have APHIS employees in 29 countries that are working on not just facilitating trade, but being our eyes and ears in terms of the agricultural threats that are out there in terms of what potential threat might be coming to us from different parts of the world because of the animal and plant disease situations around the world. So I think we have an increasing role, and we certainly have had over the past decade an increasing role in trade, and I don't see that doing anything in the future except expanding.

Mr. Lawrence: Dr. DeHaven, if I've done my math right, you've dedicated your career to public service, almost 30 years if I remember the dates from our first segment. So I'd like to ask you to be reflective and talk to a person who's maybe interested in a career or just starting out in public service. What advice would you give to them?

Dr. DeHaven: I think one of the most frustrating experiences of my 30-year career in government was getting that first job. There was no good process to tap into the system, get your questions answered, and effectively compete. So while I think we've made some tremendous inroads and are much more user-friendly today than we were in the past in the perspective, and there's ample opportunity to get information from the Internet, I would encourage folks to be patient and persistent.

I would also say, at the end of the day, certainly for me it's been worth it. Certainly don't come to work for government if you just want to draw a paycheck and sit back and look forward to a retirement. Plan on working, working hard, but also plan on the rewards being substantial. I think the impact, for example, that APHIS has on American agriculture is tremendous. And so while the work is hard, the hours can be long, the rewards are equally as large.

I would also encourage those that are interested in coming to work for a particular agency learn what you can about the agency before you go for a job interview. I can't tell you the number of people that I've interviewed for prospective jobs that know next to nothing about the agency. And indeed if you are truly interested in working for that agency, it just makes common sense that you would have done some background and know what that agency does and what kind of position that you would be interested in.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, I'm afraid we're out of time. That'll have to be our last question. Dr. DeHaven, Mike and I want to thank you for squeezing us in your very busy schedule this morning.

Dr. DeHaven: Well, thank you, Paul, it's been my pleasure, and Mike as well. I appreciate the questions and the opportunity to explain to the public the wide variety and important functions that the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service plays. We've got a great group of dedicated employees who work hard day-in and day-out.

And for those of you that are interested in knowing more about our programs, I would encourage you to visit our website. That website is www.aphis.usda.gov. And we've got a comprehensive website that will explain to you more about what we do in our various programs as well as provide mechanisms for you to get answers to your questions if you need services from our agency.

Again, Paul and Mike, thank you very much for having me on your program.

Mr. Wasson: Thank you.

Mr. Lawrence: Thank you, Dr. DeHaven.

This has been The Business of Government Hour, featuring a conversation with Dr. Ron DeHaven, administrator of the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Be sure and visit us on the web at businessofgovernment.org. There you can learn more about our programs and research and get a transcript of today's fascinating conversation. Once again, that's businessofgovernment.org.

This is Paul Lawrence. Thank you for listening.

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