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Publication Number:      Date:  Jan/Feb 1998
Issue No: Vol. 62 No. 4
Date: Jan/Feb 1998


FHWA's New Leaders Have Strategic Vision

by David Smith

The bridge to the 21st century comes along a road to the future. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will enter the 21st century guided by a new leadership team and a strategic plan. The plan, like the team, builds upon experience and yet views the future as "an undiscovered country" to be shaped by proaction, not reaction.

Guided by a Strategic Plan With Specific Goals

The five strategic goals laid out in FHWA's Strategic Plan for 1997-2002 form the foundation of the agency's pursuit of excellence. Kenneth R. Wykle, who took office as federal highway administrator on Nov. 10, 1997, said the plan provides "the direction for achieving transportation excellence in the 21st century, through goals that are basic, yet reflect and balance the realistic complexities of an evolving intermodal transportation system for America."

Furthermore, Wykle expressed his belief that these goals are "fully reflected in ISTEA (Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act) reauthorization legislation advanced by the administration."

Administrator Kenneth R. Wykle

Kenneth R. Wykle is the 20th chief federal highway executive since the founding of FHWA's original predecessor in 1893.

The five primary goals laid out in the Strategic Plan, which provides the focus for Administrator Wykle and Deputy Administrator Gloria J. Jeff, are familiar to everyone in the transportation community, and they are the priorities for FHWA:

  1. Safety - Including highway and bridge maintenance, collision-avoidance systems, intelligent cruise control, and efforts across the board to improve highway safety.
  2. Mobility - Encompassing maintenance of interstate highways, connectors, bridges, and travel/weather information.
  3. Productivity - Recognizing the critical importance of economic growth and trade, intermodalism, technology, standards, freeway management, and information systems.
  4. Human and Natural Environment - Placing due emphasis on alternative fuels, congestion mitigation, air quality improvement, and protection of wetlands and natural habitats to enhance the American "quality of life."
  5. National Security - Including the National Highway System, as well as connectors to intermodal facilities, bridges, and access to military installations.

Intermodalism: Basis of an Efficient Transportation System

ISTEA emphasized intermodalism - a seamless, fully integrated transport system to meet the needs of shippers, carriers, and the public. It also created a new role for FHWA - a role emphasizing technical support and partnership. The Strategic Plan affirms intermodalism as the basis of an efficient transportation system, and the new administrator and deputy administrator will build on the foundation established by their predecessors, working in partnership with corporate and public officials, "to make surface transportation an ally in efforts to improve economic productivity, to create jobs and wealth, and to help ensure our successful transition to a 21st century economy," said Jeff.

Deputy Administrator Gloria J. Jeff

Deputy Administrator Gloria J. Jeff served previously as the FHWA's associate administrator for policy.

The National Highway System (NHS), which was ratified by Congress and approved by the president in 1995, was a significant step toward a national intermodal transportation system. Developing NHS was a major undertaking involving extensive interaction between government and industry. NHS is a fully connected network with direct access to major international border crossings, major ports, and airports, and to other intermodal terminals. NHS includes connectors linking major highways with more than 1,250 freight and passenger terminals, including about 200 each of seaports, airports, and rail/truck terminals and 65 pipeline terminals. FHWA will be working in 1998 to assess the condition and needs of these vital connectors and to analyze the policy options for addressing those needs.

Technology: Key to a National Transportation System

Administrator Wykle comes to FHWA with a strong background in intermodal logistics and a complete understanding of the operational issues facing FHWA. Based on this, as well as the need to improve mobility and facilitate economic growth in particular, he views the National Highway System as "the keystone of a national intermodal transportation system that will continue to foster productivity and mobility and be enhanced as we leverage technology, information systems, and our great human resources in the national transportation community."

He emphasizes the key role of technology in achieving his strategic vision. New engineering and analytical tools, new processes and procedures, new and better testing and evaluation methods, and the application of technology through intelligent transportation systems will all be required to fuel the drive to fulfil the five strategic goals.

"We cannot continue to build highways as we have for the last 40 years," Administrator Wykle asserts. "We must turn our focus to an efficient national intermodal system that is interoperable, with global transportation systems, using technology and information to significantly increase the capacity and productivity of our current infrastructure."

A New Leadership Team

As 1998 begins, FHWA is invigorated with a new leadership team - unified in its vision, structured around a strategic plan, and focused on achieving significant progress toward five specific goals by the year 2002. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater, who was Wykle's predecessor as federal highway administrator, led the initial conceptualization of the Strategic Plan; Deputy Administrator Jeff contributed fundamentally to the development of the plan; and now, Administrator Wykle has refined it and has publicly and enthusiastically taken up the banner.

"I personally find the search for solutions to our nation's many transportation challenges rewarding," he told the assembled audience at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) in November - four days after he assumed his position at the helm of FHWA.

He believes that, for both institutional progress and personal growth, everyone must establish lofty, but achievable, objectives - "raising the bar so that people will have to stretch." He also has said on several occasions he is impressed with the "level of professionalism" he has found at FHWA and he has absolute confidence the agency has the "abilities combined with the can-do attitude to accomplish all our goals."

As FHWA begins a new era with the anticipated passage of legislation to succeed the expired ISTEA, meeting the challenges and solving the problems faced by the agency are formidable tasks. Clearly, FHWA requires an exceptional leader. Wykle was personally recommended by Secretary Slater, who knows first-hand the wide range of the administrator's critical responsibilities as the Department of Transportation gears up for the increasing demands of the new century.

Also, the almost unprecedented speed with which the Senate confirmed President Clinton's nomination of Wykle to be federal highway administrator - 24 days - reflects the Senate's confidence that Wykle is the right leader for this important post at this time.

Wykle attributed his speedy confirmation to the Senate's "respect for the character, commitment, and competence of the FHWA." He specifically noted the contributions of Jeff, who, "along with FHWA Executive Director Tony Kane, so ably guided this agency during Secretary Slater's transition from administrator to secretary."

Wykle, a retired Army lieutenant general, brings to his new post both his 32 years of applied military transportation and logistics experience and his post-retirement, private sector experience as vice president for defense transportation for Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) since 1995. He knows transportation on the ground, in the classroom, and on the drawing board. During his career, he has done everything from commanding a medium truck company during combat in Vietnam to educating students on military logistics doctrine and transportation operations when he was an instructor at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College.

During his confirmation hearing with the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Wykle acknowledged the consequence and challenge of leading FHWA. "Highways are the backbone of our current intermodal transportation system," he asserted. "Both the president and Secretary Slater recognize the crucial role of highways in our transportation system and their impact on our nation's economy, national security, and quality of life."

He also showed that his vision is strategic in depth, national in focus, and intermodal in scope. "The field is the front line of the Federal Highway Administration," he told the Senators, "and we at headquarters will work with you to help deliver the best national intermodal transportation system in the world for the American people."

As the former deputy commander-in-chief of the U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), Wykle knows first-hand how crucial safe and reliable highways are - not only for our economic well-being, but also for the social mobility and overall quality of life that sets America apart from so much of the world.

"At TRANSCOM, we moved thousands of personnel and millions of tons of cargo in support of humanitarian operations during times of national crisis," he said. And he stressed this was accomplished in close cooperation with the commercial transportation community. "I know the need, both in peacetime and in time of international turmoil, for safe, reliable, and efficient intermodal transportation capability."

Wykle is very pleased to have Deputy Administrator Jeff as part of his leadership team. Jeff already had 17 years of experience in various senior-level, administrative transportation posts in Michigan before becoming FHWA's associate administrator for policy in 1993. She has received numerous transportation and engineering awards for her achievements, and in 1991, the University of Michigan honored her with a Distinguished Alumni Award. With two master's degrees, one in civil engineering and the other in urban planning, and with a strong background in transportation planning and policy, both at the state and federal levels, Jeff complements and reinforces the skills and experiences of the new administrator. They also share the same commitment to strategic vision.

Healthy Transportation Takes Teamwork

Wykle understands that, just as TRANSCOM relied on the cooperation of private sector, the achievement of FHWA's strategic goals requires the coordinated effort of FHWA and its partners.

Gloria Jeff and I look forward to building on the already strong alliances this agency has formed with the Congress, industry, government, and academic partners, as well as with representatives from environmental and safety organizations and other affected transportation interests," he said at the AASHTO Annual Meeting.

Administrator Wykle also appreciates the importance of international alliances and cooperation. He has considerable international transportation experience, having lived and worked as a senior military transportation and logistics manager/planner for more than 16 years overseas in Europe and Asia.

Cooperation and teamwork are essential to FHWA's success in achieving its goals and to the smooth functioning of our national transportation system. Transportation partnerships are analogous to the human body in respect to the requirement for all the parts to work synchronously to achieve maximum performance.

Wykle likes to compare the nation's transportation system to the circulatory system of the human body. "Our intermodal transportation system must enable people and goods to move efficiently throughout our country and the world, or our economy and our quality of life will lose vitality and productivity, just as the human body will fail when its circulatory system becomes clogged."

His solution is to maintain our transportation infrastructure with the same rigor and responsibility that a health-conscious person applies to maintaining his physical well-being. And regular exercise - of strategic thinking and planning, research and technology applications, and partnerships - is the key to the health and fitness of our intermodal, national transportation system.

The full text of the FHWA Strategic Plan for 1997-2002 is available on the FHWA web site (www.fhwa.dot.gov) in the Major Program Areas section, and feedback from FHWA's partners and customers is welcome.

Dr. David Smith is a frequent writer and commentator on transportation policy, issues, and technologies. A graduate of Cambridge University, he is the principal of AMANUENSIS Creative Group, a professional writing and consulting group located in Vienna, Va.



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