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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - Jan/Feb 1999


by Melissa J. Allen

Chicago's O'Hare Airport is a busy, often confusing place, especially for passengers whose final destination is downtown Chicago. For many travelers, the easiest commuter alternative is a taxi - a costly ride that can be longer than the flights that brought them to the airport. Yet, tucked among a confusing array of symbols for ground transportation is one that resembles a train, and if passengers can follow the signs and find the train, they can ride to downtown in 38 minutes for a mere $1.50.

In an effort to address this problem, Joel Ettinger and Cecilia Hunziker, the regional administrators of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), respectively, convened a meeting in July with representatives of the local transportation authorities, city of Chicago's Aviation Department and the Chicago Transit Administration (CTA). The group identified a number of recommendations to make things easier for travelers at the airport; the most straightforward of which is to improve the signs that direct travelers to the CTA rail line. The city is also evaluating the feasibility of installing video screens in the terminal concourses to display real-time information about transit and highway travel times to downtown. These screens may also be installed at the baggage carousels.

One of the most innovative ideas emerged when the city noted that it planned to demonstrate an in-plane video for in-coming international travelers to tell them about O'Hare's automated people-mover system. The group quickly urged the city to develop a video for all incoming passengers to make them aware of the public transportation options at the airport.

ONE DOT Means Collaboration

It's not new for agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to cooperate to solve common problems; however, the O'Hare-Chicago transit story illustrates the effectiveness of ONE DOT, a recently enacted initiative of DOT.

ONE DOT is a management strategy that builds on the strength of mutual collaboration between the various agencies and functional "communities of interest" when those cross-cutting efforts reduce duplication and save resources. Collaboration enables modes to solve common problems and serve customers more effectively, thereby achieving the vision, mission, and goals specified in DOT's Strategic Plan.

The DOT Strategic Plan calls for the department to be visionary and vigilant in leading the way to transportation excellence in the 21st century by ensuring a safe, fast, efficient, accessible, and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people.

DOT Secretary Rodney Slater officially kicked off ONE DOT at a celebration on Oct. 8, 1998, with a challenge to department employees to "create a work place climate in which good ideas will flourish and mature" and to establish "a collaborative environment that reaches across modes and agencies to provide better transportation services and [to] support better transportation systems in the new century."

Collaboration at all levels and an integrated approach, when necessary and applicable, will enable employees to solve problems by sharing ideas and resources. By increasing communication and cooperation across modes, DOT agencies can realize the promise of intermodalism and meet the transportation needs of an increasingly mobile population in an evermore global economy. This integrated approach to a changing world and a changing industry is the foundation of the ONE DOT management strategy.

ONE DOT Debuts

Secretary Slater used a March 1998 meeting of modal administrators and regional directors to unveil his vision of ONE DOT "working better together." He explained that instead of planning and operating a range of separate and distinct modes, DOT had to think of the nation's transportation needs as a cohesive and integrated system. This integrated approach is a change in the culture of the department and in the way DOT conducts business.

At the March meeting, Slater defined the three levels of leadership that will monitor the progress of the initiative: the Senior Leadership Team, the Steering Team, and regional champions.

Members of the Senior Leadership Team are the DOT secretary, deputy secretary, chief of staff, modal administrators, assistant secretaries, the general counsel, the associate deputy secretary, the inspector general, and the director of the Transportation Administrative Service Center. This team will be responsible for providing ONE DOT leadership and developing ideas that cross internal DOT organizational lines. They will meet monthly to assess ONE DOT and to exchange information they have received from the regional champions. Accountability for ONE DOT leadership will be included as a performance element in all performance agreements with the DOT secretary and each member of the Senior Leadership Team.

The Steering Team is composed of the chief of staff, the assistant secretary for administration, and two rotating members of the Senior Leadership Team. This team will promote and oversee the integration of the ONE DOT vision and strategic planning.

ONE DOT regional champions are the critical link between the Senior Leadership Team and the field. A member of the Senior Leadership Team has been assigned to each region to share information, to encourage ONE DOT activities, and to be the region's champion to gain the support of the Senior Leadership Team for promising ideas and to remove obstacles in the path of effective and innovative regional initiatives. As an example, the ONE DOT champion for Region 8, Federal Highway Administrator Kenneth Wykle, is working closely with regional employees to promote intermodal efforts in coordinating plans for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Building ONE DOT

Ad hoc collaboration between modes and functions has occurred for years. For example, starting in 1993, a program to apply a team concept for foreign vessel inspections by the St. Lawrence Seaway Corp. and the U.S. Coast Guard has substantially reduced vessel delays resulting from duplicate inspections, improved ship safety, and enhanced environmental protection of the waterway and the communities on its shores. The DOT team was recognized in 1996 by Vice President Gore with a National Performance Review "Hammer Award," and recently, the collaboration was recognized internationally and awarded the ISO 9002 Certification from the Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization.

The change brought about by ONE DOT is simply that this example of exceptional collaboration should become the rule rather than the exception. ONE DOT encourages collaboration across the modes and agencies at all levels and rewards efficiency and creativity. ONE DOT will succeed only if all managers and employees see themselves as representatives of the department, as well as employees of their modal administrations, and if they seek opportunities to partner and cooperate with colleagues in other agencies to resolve issues and to better serve the department's customers.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and FTA have worked closely on initiatives that target mutual safety goals and enhance sharing of technical expertise. For example, all FHWA resource centers and the other modes' regional headquarters have Intermodal Safety Groups/Teams and Intermodal Planning Groups. In particular, FHWA and FRA cooperate extensively on transportation planning issues.

ONE DOT also reaches outside traditional agency confines to welcome the participation and contribution of all shareholders throughout the transportation community, including state and local governments, trade associations, industry, and academia. For example, to support NHTSA's "Buckle Up America" campaign, the FAA worked with Delta Air Lines to include a seat belt safety message in the onboard departure announcements. Delta now adds "don't forget to buckle up" to the traditional airline message of "fasten your seat belts."

In addition to Buckle Up America, other interagency initiatives that have been adopted as DOT-wide programs to serve customers more effectively include Safe Communities, Moving Kids Safely, and the Garrett A. Morgan Technology and Transportation Futures Program.

Partnering for Excellence - and Action

Central to the implementation of ONE DOT is a series of two-day seminars or learning sessions. These sessions stress the importance of the ONE DOT management strategy for advancing transportation excellence, demonstrate teaming tools and techniques for working better together, and culminate in team action plans that apply innovative ONE DOT thinking and active approaches to the opportunities and challenges that face the department.

Originally designed to introduce DOT managers to the ONE DOT vision, concept, and management strategy, these seminars have been adapted to organize special teams of approximately 20 DOT employees from various modes or offices to deal with specific issues or problems of common interest. The team will focus on a particular need, identify appropriate missions and goals, and develop an action plan to meet the need.

"Each plan is unique to that group because it defines their issues and it identifies actions and specifies outcomes that relate directly to that group's mission and interests," said seminar organizer Mary Sibley of the Office of the Assistant Secretary (of DOT) for Administration.

Important objectives of each seminar are to promote teamwork and to develop in each participant the skills needed to organize and manage productive teams.

Each session is sponsored by a member of the Senior Leadership Team to ensure that the seminars meet the strategic priorities of ONE DOT and link directly to goals defined in the DOT Strategic Plan. These ONE DOT learning sessions are currently underway throughout the country.

The development of each team does not end with the seminar. Each team continues to meet periodically to monitor the implementation of their action plan, to develop a better understanding of the ONE DOT vision and opportunities, and to continue developing their team-building skills.

Region 2 Sets the ONE DOT Pace

An enthusiastic proponent of ONE DOT is FAA Region 2 Administrator Arlene B. Feldman.

"The secretary's decision to formalize a process that was happening on an ad hoc basis makes a lot of sense to me," she observes. Region 2 encompasses seven states and two port authorities. These modes have long worked together to address common issues such as dealing with hazardous materials and addressing civil rights issues. Sharing or trading resources to preserve resources and money means that we are serving our customers more efficiently.

"One of our first actions was to encourage functional groups from the modes to meet and identify resources that could be shared. This effort inspired a functional directory." A draft directory is now in review and should be ready in January 1999.

To speed communication, Region 2 instituted a Blast Fax system. The system provides an immediate seven-state response network. This network is particularly vital in case of emergency. Individual states or modes can also access the communication center and use the Blast Fax to advise all groups or individual modes on an issue.

To chronicle ONE DOT progress, the region publishes Connecting the DOT, a monthly newsletter that highlights accomplishments and announces the planned activities and events of the different modes.

"We're very proud that Region 2 has taken a lead in advocating the potential for ONE DOT," said Feldman. "One reason for our success is the enthusiasm of DOT Inspector General Ken Meade, our regional champion. We have created a partnership with the other DOT Region 2 transportation modes, and we are well on our way to accomplishing some of the goals of the DOT strategic and performance plans."

ONE DOT in Action

A recent partnering session by the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) provides an example of cross-cutting partnerships that reinforce the potential of ONE DOT. RSPA works in many cross-cutting safety and environmental areas, but this partnering session involved 45 RSPA field and headquarters inspectors and attorneys who addressed hazardous materials issues. The session involved both FAA and Coast Guard facilitators.

"We had a very productive, energizing meeting," observed Ed Bonekemper, who was both a participant and a sponsor of the program. "The success was based on the fact that this was a field-driven session. We solicited ideas from participants before the seminar, which helped us identify specific needs and assign agenda issues to logical categories that the groups would address. Participants worked in five different groups to develop five separate plans for action."

RSPA management is reviewing the action plans now to prioritize items, determine which ones can or should be accomplished, and how they can be implemented.

"Seminar feedback was very positive, but the most important product of these sessions is the action plan. Participants let us know that they wished they had more time to facilitate their plans. More importantly, this first seminar proved very valuable as we begin to plan for future multimodal sessions," said Bonekemper.

Region 8 ONE DOT Team Evaluates Corridor Safety

Safety issues are ideal for proving the effectiveness of cross-cutting teams.

In June, an intermodal inspection team of FTA, FRA, FHWA, and NHTSA representatives joined with representatives from the Regional Transit District and the Colorado Department of Transportation to assess work-zone safety in the Santa Fe Corridor. The corridor connects Denver, Colo., and Santa Fe, N.M. The unannounced inspection dealt with construction safety programs, practices, and enforcement on freight rail, light rail, and highway construction projects.

"The objective of this inspection was to determine compliance with federal rail and highway standards and to determine the effectiveness of existing construction safety programs," said FTA's Chick Dolby. AWe timed the inspection to occur during National Transportation Safety Week.

"We found people doing a good job, but we also identified several lax safety procedures, such as insufficient attention to personal safety at two sites and inadequate traffic safety measures at another site. We concluded that more adequate training is needed to prepare crews and contractors to recognize and mitigate safety hazards. As a result of this inspection, the agencies and contractors involved have pledged to correct deficiencies and follow through with employee counseling and training, where necessary," Dolby said.

ONE DOT and Y2K The Year 2000 (Y2K) problem, which potentially could cause major malfunctions of computer programs affecting virtually every computer system, is another perfect model of a ONE DOT challenge.

In July, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) representatives from across the surface transportation community participated in a summit to address Y2K challenges. This one-day meeting kicked off a 500-day "ITS and Y2K" educational effort to address computer glitches that could affect synchronized ITS systems, such as traffic lights, freeway ramp meters, automated transit management programs, and cargo-tracking systems.

Industry professionals and state and local government officials joined representatives from FHWA, FRA, FTA, RSPA, NHTSA, the Office of the Secretary, and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) to draft Steps for Action, a guide for operators as they anticipate turn-of-the-millennium computer problems.

ONE DOT - Working Better Together

The key to ONE DOT is its intent to be part of the everyday responsibilities of DOT employees. ONE DOT is not a special project.

ONE DOT has been characterized as a series of overlapping circles; where the circles overlap, we have opportunities for collaboration that will be mutually beneficial for the participants and for their customers. Where the circles do not converge, the operating administrations will continue to meet their individual strategic missions and serve their customers.

ONE DOT seeks to leverage the strengths and technical expertise of each modal administration to create a synergy of knowledge and skills that enables the department to be more effective, efficient, and responsive.

Joe Toole, director of FHWA's new Office of Professional Development, sees ONE DOT as a way to enable employees to provide better service to customers.

"Each of our modes serves the traveling public," notes Toole. "ONE DOT is an opportunity for us to serve them better and more efficiently by working better together."

For information about ONE DOT - how it was developed and is being implemented, success stories, enterprising partnerships, and ongoing activities - visit the ONE DOT Web site at Also, a ONE DOT video, "Working Better Together," is available from DOT's Office of Administration; call Carmen Jones at (202) 366-6523. The video is also closed-captioned for the hearing impaired.

Melissa J. Allen is the assistant secretary for administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation. She came to DOT in 1986 as the deputy secretary of transportation for administration. She began her career in 1968 as a management intern with the Department of Navy. From 1975 to 1979, she worked in the Department of Treasury, and from 1979 to 1986, she was an advisor to the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. She was honored with the Presidential Meritorious Executive Rank Award in 1989 and the Presidential Distinguished Executive Rank Award in 1994. Allen received a bachelor's degree in American studies from Goucher College (Towson, Md.) and a master's degree in business financial management from The George Washington University. She is a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration and is currently serving as vice chair of the Interagency Council on Administrative Management.