Remarks on Transit Safety & Security Round Table, Newark, NJ


Summary of Remarks: Administrator James Simpson, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Federal Transit Administration

Administrator Simpson offered advice, views on leadership, and needs pertaining to the current crisis in homeland security.

Post 9/11 Changes in the Definition of Safety and Security

Administrator Simpson described safety and security prior to 9/11 as focusing on preventing “slip and fall” accidents; whereas, post 9/11 efforts are based on the urgent need to protect passengers and infrastructure.

An Entrepreneurial Approach to Government

The Administrator urged participants to engage in planning in order to best apply our limited resource. He recommended an entrepreneurial approach to government where agencies focus on the bottom line, target areas of improvement, and pursue accountability by developing and applying appropriate metrics to measure progress. One way to measure progress is through ridership numbers. Administrator Simpson emphasized the importance of increasing ridership by creating systems where the public feels safe and secure.

Leadership, Vision, and Shared Values

The Administrator emphasized that just like any corporation, transportation agencies are in need of strong leadership. He discussed the transit industry facing intense competition for resources and the need to see results. He illustrated this point by discussing the army’s leadership system. A peacetime army can survive with a good administration and management, up and down the hierarchy, coupled with good leadership at the top. However, a wartime army needs competent leadership at all levels. No one has been able to figure out how to “manage” people into battle—they must be led.

He also discussed the value he places on “management by walking around.” The Administrator said that one must lead by example, have the ability to inspire confidence and provide support to the men and women on whose competence and commitment good performance depends. He said, “you must be able to get from where you are to where you want to go.” Leadership means setting a direction and developing a vision for the future. It means inspiring confidence in others, maintaining integrity, courage, knowledge, decisiveness, and dependability.

The Administrator discussed William Bratton, former Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (current Chief of the Los Angles Police Department). Bratton provided leadership to his officers and community by declaring his vision in inspiring language, “We will fight for every house in the city. We will fight for every street. We will fight for every block. And, we will win.” Scarcely a week after his appointment as NYPD Commissioner, he was on the news promising, “I will end the fear!” He did not stop with idle promises. Bratton had a strategy called Compstat, which dealt with each and every crime problem. To get results, he got down into the weeds of everyday operations.

Simpson challenged the transit leadership in attendance at the Roundtable. He said, “Leadership does not happen from the fifty-second floor of the headquarters building. Leaders stay in touch with trends in the marketplace. They stay in touch with the ideas and advice of others. They stay in touch with social, political, technological, and artistic changes. Most importantly, leaders seek information from front-line employees in their efforts to alter the business as usual environment.”

The Administrator concluded by saying that leaders embrace change and work courageously to deal with it. Today’s transit environment is about deregulation, global competition, finding effective ways to protect passengers—it is not about business as usual. He admitted that this is a challenge, but one that current transit leadership must face.