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Washington, DC 20590
202-366-4000


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FHWA Works: Employee Spotlight - Dan Mathis

Photo of Justin Ocel

Full Name: Dan Mathis
Title: Division Administrator
Division/Department: Washington Division
Location: Olympia, WA

  1. What is your current position and how long have you been in this role?
    I have been the Division Administrator (DA) for FHWA’s Washington Division for almost 17 years located in Olympia, WA. Why so long you might wonder? Well, it’s been an exciting and transformative time in transportation for Washington State. There have been three State revenue packages, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and two large transit revenue packages in the Seattle metro area in the time I’ve been here. These plus the regular Federal-aid program have led to some of the most unique and challenging projects one could experience in a career–building floating bridges, boring a highway tunnel under Seattle, providing wildlife over- and under-crossings along I-90 in the Cascades, and construction of light rail transit within interstate right-of-way. I think I have the best job in the agency (and I hope everyone feels that way)! Prior to my time in Washington, I was the Assistant Division Administrator (ADA) in the Illinois Division from 1996 to 2001. Other positions I’ve had include District Engineer in Iowa, Pavement Engineer in headquarters, Assistant and Area Engineer in the California Division, and highway engineer trainee in various locations.

  2. What is your typical workday like?
    There’s no typical workday so I’d like to lay out what a typical week entails. As a DA my workweek revolves around two key roles–FHWA Ambassador for Washington State and office staff supporter/enabler. Early in the week I begin by reviewing my calendar to see what’s upcoming, what I need to prepare for, and anticipate what needs to be done in the two key roles heeding one of Stephen Covey’s habits “Begin with the end in mind.” In conjunction with this, I review my calendar at the end of the day in preparation for the next. Engaging with partners and stakeholders is an important part of the Division Administrator’s job. Being aware of transportation issues and topics at the local, State, and national level through scanning various media sources and attending transportation conferences and forums is an important piece to the ambassador role, as is sharing of important and innovative efforts underway in Washington State with the agency. Informal discussions and meetings with Division office teams and individuals is a critical part in 1) providing information and overall direction, 2) helping employees deliver projects, and 3) helping employees grow in their positions (i.e., making decisions, considering the big picture, and getting stuff done).

  3. What has been your biggest accomplishment over the last year?
    Providing opportunities for employees to learn and grow. We had two employees serve on rotational assignments, one with an office in headquarters and one with FEMA in Puerto Rico. We also had one employee provide expertise and assistance on a critical programmatic effort to another Division and their State DOT through our partnership with the Resource Center.

  4. Prior to working at FHWA, what was the most unusual or interesting job you've ever had?
    In the summers during my high school years, I worked as a janitorial assistant at the grade school I had attended. I did everything a janitor would do from stripping and sealing the classrooms’ wood floors, replacing broken window panes, painting, to crawling into a large boiler furnace to clean out the flues. It was hard manual labor, but I learned a lot about building maintenance, fixing and repairing equipment, and how to throw a mop with the best of them!

  5. What are your hobbies in your spare time?
    I like to run, bike, hike–just about any kind of physical activity. I’m a big believer in “your body is the most important asset you’ll ever have,” and keeping it fit and healthy is critical to a high quality of life and working toward personal and professional excellence.

  6. What is one of the biggest lessons you have learned in your career to get you where you are today?
    Well, there are actually three–take initiative, work well with others, and get stuff done! Leaders love employees who take initiative to solve problems and volunteer to do things. That gives leaders more time to work on other important things. Working well with others is really how we, in FHWA get most anything accomplished. We must be able to work with people in our office, with State DOT personnel, and with other agencies and organizations to do our jobs effectively. And, of course, we need to get stuff done! Getting stuff done was a challenge for me early on in my career. For me “the perfect” was the enemy of “the good” until I realized I had to get things completed to be able to move on to the next effort and to begin to affect change. A quote from John Ruskin that resonated with me and which I still have on my desk says, “What we think, or what we know, or what we believe is, in the end, of little consequence. The only consequence is what we do.” That pretty much says it all for me.

  7. Who do you admire in the transportation field and why?
    There have been many I’ve admired throughout my career, but there are two that stand out. The first person is Ron Marshall who was the DA in the Illinois Division when I was the ADA there. Ron has a way with people and a tremendous sense of humor. He taught me how to take one’s job seriously, but not oneself too seriously; the importance of having fun in your work; and the significance of building relationships. Ron also showed how investing in our employees and giving them opportunities to grow benefitted them personally, as well as the office and the agency. Ron’s a terrific guy whom I still keep in touch with. The other person I admire greatly is Tom Smith (former West Virginia (WV) DA and current WVDOT Secretary). I’ve known Tom for most of my career and have always admired his folksy personality, his willingness to invest in the agency and its people, and the way he liked to challenge himself both physically and professionally. Like Ron, Tom has a way with people, a great sense of humor, and is a terrific story teller. He too, loves to have fun at work and help people–he was a frequent participant in agency strategic initiatives throughout his FHWA career, and deeply involved in various agency leadership development initiatives. Tom and I keep in touch and are always looking for something fun and challenging to do.

  8. Complete this sentence: "People would be surprised if they knew..."
    ...I’m a part-time thespian (well, sort of). For two months of the year I’m part of a musical production put on by teachers, administrators, and family members of the Olympia School District. Every January and February we get together to rehearse, build sets, and put on a musical production (this year it was “Hello Dolly”). I’d never done theater prior to moving to Olympia, but when I became aware of the opportunity to get into theater through my wife’s working as a librarian in the school district, we decided to jump in and give it a try. I got hooked and now I’ve done eight productions! In addition to being a growth and learning opportunity, what’s most rewarding about the effort is that proceeds from ticket sales go to the Olympia Education Foundation (OEF) which provides grants to schools and teachers for kid’s programs and classroom supplies. Last year we made $40,000 for OEF!

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Page last modified on March 8, 2018
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000