Administrator Rogoff Delivers Remarks at CTAA Conference - Long Beach, CA


05-26-10

I noticed that Dale didn't say, it's not that you haven't heard negative words about us on some other issues you just haven't heard any negative words about us as it relates to the Recovery Act.

And I think that is appropriate.

I will say, it is very, very good to be here.  Particularly because this is my first full lap.

As Dale pointed out, I did my first public speaking address, just a week after being confirmed by the Senate, and it was at this annual meeting in Providence.

And I begged your indulgence on what I was on top of and what I wasn't, as it relates to what the goings on of FTA, since I think I was only on the job either 5 or 6 days when I came to Providence to join you.

But you welcomed me warmly.  I got a chance to sit with the board last year, as I did this morning and really talked through a lot of the issues that are present.

I could tell you, more than most organizations, I really found your board to represent the full diversity of the CTAA membership and give great voice to the concerns that is that are out there.

I do want to thank you.  You know, when I first took the position, as FTA Administrator, the biggest concern we had on our plate at the time was meeting all the statutory deadlines for obligating the Recovery Act funds.

It was an extraordinary challenge when you consider that the Recovery Act gave the FTA an 80 percent funding increase in a single year.

Well, we did meet those deadlines and it's all because of the hard work of people like you.  And the hard work of a great many FTA staff, spread in the regions and at headquarters, and a large number of them are sitting among you out in the audience.  So I'd ask you to give them a round of applause.

(Applause)

Just as we should applaud you, because, it is a partnership.  It only happens when we have a grantee that steps up to the plate and works just as hard as we do, if not harder to make all this happen.

You're the one who turned these grants into real service to the American people.  That's who our customers are.  You are a critical and essential intermediary to reach all of those customers and we thank you for all your efforts in doing that every day.

On the topic of FTA staff, this has been a difficult month for us at the FTA.  Really for two reasons.

One is that we lost the services of our regional administrator in region one, Dick Doyle.  Dick Doyle had served with the FTA for 463 years. (laughter) Or something like that.

But literally, Dick, is one of the veterans that date back well before the name was changed from UMTA to FTA.  He was a real leader and a great mentor and I just want to commend the CTAA for immediately upon his departure, putting him on the CTAA board.  It was great and warm to see him at the board discussion this morning.

The other piece of bad news, that we have as it relates to staff, is after many, many great years of service to the FTA, in a great many positions, Susan Schruth has announced her retirement at the end of July.

And she has been particularly involved in a lot of the programs that are essential to the CTAA membership.  So I just want to take this moment, as I will I think many times between now and the end of July, to thank Susan for her contributions to everything that you execute for us out in the field.

Both were instrumental in helping us make everything happen that needed to happen with the Recovery Act.  As a result of our efforts, we've now obligated 100 percent of our formula funds.

We've made just over a thousand grants; the Vice-President joined us in announcing the other day, the awarding of our one thousandth grant to the Choctaw Indian Nation in Oklahoma.

(Applause)

That was a great milestone for us.  Our efforts have included the purchase of over 11,000 vehicles, both buses and para transit vans. And as of today, one out of every three Recovery Act dollars left the treasury.  But even before we know that they've been awarded in contracts and being used to manufacture vehicles in creating and saving thousands and thousands of jobs.

One of the things I said, when I spoke to the CTAA last year, is that our success in putting the Recovery Act moneys to work will be a critical precursor on how we will be judged as we enter the debate on reauthorization.  Given the record that we've shown together, I think we could make no better statement about our ability to use the taxpayer funds wisely and effectively and efficiently as we've made under the Recovery Act.

Now, that said, it is certainly not lost on us, that we are facing extremely difficult economic times.  Every agency in this room is dealing with it.  Even with a historic single year 80 percent federal funding boost, those additional federal dollars cannot fully offset for the challenges presented by reduced sales tax and property tax revenues, cuts in municipal support.  Farebox reduction brought about by unemployment and rising fuel prices.  I want you to know that FTA is mindful of the struggles that so many of our transit agencies are facing today.  As I've told my senior staff we are going to face these issues with our eyes wide open.

One of the things that I discovered over the last year, is while we collect a great deal of data on operating conditions at our transit agencies, the data isn't necessarily current.  We had a very good fix on what the operating conditions was of our transit agencies two years prior.  As a policy maker and someone who is advising the Secretary and the President on what's going on as it relates to the availability of transit services, I do not know how much value we get out of knowing what was going on two years ago. So I have instructed my research arm, it's known as TRI, to do a quick survey of conditions right now.

And it's something that I think is going to be emerging as a continuing effort for us; I can assure you that Barack Obama and Ray LaHood and I for that matter are far more interested in knowing where we are now, and what we are facing in our future, than knowing what happened two or three years ago.  When it comes to the operating needs of our agency, what service you can provide and what service you can't, we want to know what's going on right now and that's how not just FTA surveys but our regular dialogue as an agency between the CTAA and FTA at the all levels, region and headquarters is critically important.

I also want to point out and I was really glad that CTAA wisely distributed it in your conference materials.  The Department under Secretary LaHood just put out a new strategic plan and this strategic plan is really going to guide our efforts going forward as an Administration.  It has been a long time in the making and a subject of great deal of discussion within the building.  And I really, really want to urge members of the CTAA to review the plan and comment on it.  We're in kind of a public comment period right now.

And frankly as the FTA Administrator, I'm not interested in having all the comments and input come from state highway departments and the nation's largest airports, and freight railroads, their input is important, so is yours, so I really want to encourage you, not just as CTAA, though I encourage CTAA to do it, but even as individuals, at all levels of the service chain. To comment on our strategic plan and where you think it speaks to what you need and what you do and where it doesn't.

One of the strategic goals that we have pointed out, and have chartered for our future is the State of Good Repair.  This isn't just about the State of Good Repair of transit systems, but it's about airports, runways, highway bridges, rail bridges, even the air traffic control system.

But, the State of Good Repair, I believe is something that you know, when I was first brought before the Senate banking committee…

Thanks.

When I was first brought before the Senate banking committee for my confirmation hearing, I made the point that, deferred maintenance, if deferred long enough can become a critical safety problem.

And it's always been our view that the issue of State of Good Repair and maintain and deferred maintenance and the issue of safety is inextricably linked.  Safety has been a top priority at DOT, but I think no more so than under Ray LaHood's leadership.  There is not one event that he does not go and talk about the challenge that we're facing, as it relates to distracted driving.  Texting while driving.  Cell phone use while driving.  It doesn't matter what topic he's talking about, he's going to spend some portion of that speech talking about safety issues.

Back in December, Secretary LaHood transmitted a comprehensive safety bill in the house of the senate on behalf of the President, that bill is largely about rail transit safety.

Importantly, and this came to me as a surprise, it was the first time that any President of the United States formally transmitted to Congress a legislative bill solely about public transportation.

(Applause)

And appropriately, it's about transit safety.  Because that has to be our number one priority.

And like I said, while our safety bill is principally about rail transit safety, the bill highlights important issues that pertains to all transit operators, the need for good asset management, the need to stay on top of the State of Good Repair.  We're also very concerned not just about the safety of passengers; we're concerned about the safety of transit workers as well.  The drivers, the mechanics, the folks that are the backbone behind the delivery of our service each day.

(Applause)

You know, I I'm one of those Administrators that is tied to my blackberry each day and one of the grimmer responsibilities of the Transit Administrator is to receive emails on accidents and fatalities.

They're all heartbreaking.  Among the most heartbreaking has to be the violence that is sometimes executed against bus drivers in America. And it's something that is also part of the transit safety challenge.  And something that we need to attend to.

So, if safety and State of Good Repair are inextricably linked what is the FTA doing about addressing the issue about the State of Good Repair? First and foremost, we're continuing to invest.  In our 2011 budget that's currently pending before Congress.  The total budget for FTA only grows by one percent.  Just as the total budget for DOT grows by one percent.

We're doing a little bit better than the funding freeze that President Obama has charted for spending given our current economic circumstances.  As many of you know, it's going to be very difficult to do much better than steady state budgets until we solve the conundrum of financing a new authorization bill.

But even within that one percent growth, for our budget of 2011 we have been able to boost our new State of Good Repair initiative by 8 percent.  It's the largest percentage growth of any formula program within the FTA.  I believe it may be the largest percentage growth within the DOT budget.  This new State of Good Repair issue, combined the rail mod program or the fixed guideway modern station program. With the discretionary bus program.

I know this proposal, this idea of taking discretionary bus and merging it with rail mod is a source of a lot of concern by a lot of bus operators.  So I want to specifically point out to you here, this is not a concept intended to short change bus operations.  To the contrary, it is our full intent that buses share of the program will be no less than it is right now.  And importantly, we are equally focused on the State of Good Repair issues in the bus and rail space.

Importantly, also, putting together a formula program for bus, and sending it to bus operators on a formula basis, specifically for the State of Good Repair, will provide a predictable formula amount that every bus operator can count on going forward. It's a very different approach from the discretionary bus program, whether it's done by earmarks or done by competition.

It is inevitably unpredictable as a bus operator.  And that's why we're seeking to formularize this program. We're also going to continue to invest through discretionary grants and I think many of you've been and stayed on top of the discretionary grant competitions we put out.

Back in December we announced $280 million dollars for urban circulator bus project but also for bus livability projects.  We received over 300 applications totaling $3.1 billion for that $280 million. That's the way transit competitions go these days.  It's not unlike that TIGER program that we had a hundred million and got $200 million in applications.  It's also indicative of what the challenges are for transit finance these days.

But we look forward to getting that money out soon.

For 2010, we have just over a billion dollars in discretionary funding to award before October 1st.

So, if you're not staying on top of your Federal Register, I hope you will and you'll also use our regional staff at FTA to find out what particular programs you're eligible for and what you're not.

We just announced, on April 13th a Notice of Funding Availability in the area of sustainability, including $75 million dollars in additional funding.

It includes $81.3 million in the clean fuel bus program, but there's a change that I made in that, and I want to particularly call it to the attention of CTAA because I think it would apply to a number of the operators here.

The clean fuel bus program, by law, we were having interesting discussions this morning with the board about the restrictions that are put in by legal mandates on certain programs.

The clean full bus program by law can only go to bus operators in non-attainment.  So what I've done with this particular Notice of Funding Availability is to take some discretionary bus fund areas and pool it with the clean fuel bus program.

The idea is given the President's goals for greenhouse gas reduction and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.  I want to make sure there's a federal funding source for clean fuel buses, for smaller operators that are perhaps not in non-attainment areas.

So, I'd like people to read that one carefully, because it's my hope that we'll be able to do some grants there, in all parts of the country and not just in the largest non-attainment urban areas of the country.

And then, perhaps most importantly, in the bus area, we just announced a competition of more than $775 million dollars just for the State of Good Repair, in the bus area.

It's a big chunk of money.  I expect there to be a lot of demand but I think it points out the seriousness with which we take State of Good Repair, in specifically in the bus area.

The applications are due June 18th.

Many of you will remember that, the last time there was thought to be a very large discretionary bus competition the last administration ened up sending it to five specific cities.  We're sending it to all of America's bus operators.  I can't promise all but we want to have good geographic and urban and rural distribution of our funds under that notice of funding availability, so I strongly encourage many of you to participate in that as well.

We also are putting out a new round of money for Transit in the Parks and another $15 million in Tribal Transit funding and those applications are due June 29th.  So a lot of activity.  A lot of grant making activity.  Summarized in what are we doing about State of Good Repair.  We're taking the dollars that Congress is giving us and putting them out as rapidly as we can.  We're putting them out rapidly, because as anyone can tell you, the economic recovery is not done yet.  And that is a reality that you face every day.

So we are going to try to get these dollars out the door in record speed just as we did on the Recovery Act.  Needless to say, some of my staff would like to take a breather, and we're not taking any breathers.

I also want to take a minute to talk about the TIGER program, because that was one that was truly multi-modal in nature.

That's another area we're continuing to invest.  That's a multi-modal program that was put out to address surface solutions intermodal fashion, and I was really pleased at the $1.5 billion dollars that was competed, Secretary LaHood awarded fully a third of it to public transportation projects.

And it really speaks to his commitment to our enterprise and his putting his money where his mouth is when it comes to the importance of public transportation.

We are about to compete another $600 million dollars of that program, and I encourage those of you to take a look and perhaps partner with other agencies, because we are looking for innovative things to do there.

We continue to make progress in achieving our goals for United We Ride.  I know a great many of you have contributed in that area.  Our goal is to better coordinate human service transportation, in order to improve mobility services to persons with disabilities, senior citizens and low income persons.

The progress we are making is in part because of our partnership with CTAA partner and your efforts with job links and national resource center on human service transportation coordination.

We have many great initiatives, reaching countless persons and communities across the country.

Just to name a few you have CTAA Institute of Transportation coordination, the new transportation solutions course that was developed by the Easter Seals Project Action, which we also fund and the highly successful United We Ride Ambassadors Program.  And a number of those ambassadors are here in the room and I want to thank you for your efforts.

(Applause)

We're really building a transportation coordinated infrastructure across the United States.  It's one thing to build out the infrastructure that we normally think of: the roads, vehicle, but coordination is sort of an infrastructure you know to itself, and that is the personal connections that people make.

Let me talk a about a few of the signs of progress that we're seeing out there. (NCSL) National Council on Conference of State Legislators reports that 26 states have established Transportation Coordination Counselors, excuse me.  Transportation Coordination Councils, similar to the Federal Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility.  Twenty-eight states have passed coordination legislation and 14 states have established executive orders on transportation coordination.

There have been over 700 public transit human service coordination plans developed across the U.S.

The United We Ride Ambassadors have identified over 300 mobility managers that have sprung up across the country and are serving as community transportation coordinators in the communities.  Most of the activities are being funded under our New Freedom & JARC programs.

The ambassadors also found that over 60 percent of states are planning or developing one call transportation coordination centers to serve their communities and make transportation access a less complex matter for consumers.

More recently, Dale Marsico pointed out to me the important strides we made under the Medicaid program.  There has been a change that is guaranteed non-emergency transportation access to health care that will be included in Medicaid funding.

So as a result the law has greatly expanded those now eligible for such assistance and ended the so-called client shedding to public transit without adequate compensation.  That's great news for those of us seeking to provide public transportation access.

But it's even greater news for the clients we're trying to serve the disabled, the senior citizens, the low-income families that really benefit from these efforts.

Well, there's been significant progress, we're developing an expanded agenda for the new members of the Federal Coordination Council on Access & Mobility CCAM and that will support, we're looking for new areas of effort that will support key priorities that are articulated by President Obama.  We're considering four major priorities for the coming years that will be supportive of the President's agenda.  One - health wellness and transportation.  This is especially important as we seek to drive down costs through the new health care reform law.

If this is to be effective, we must simply be able to get our transportation disadvantaged populations to routine and preventive medical care, while avoiding expensive in hospital acute health care costs.

For those of you who followed the health care debate, the whole issue of preventive care was one of those things that everyone agreed on.  It was all a matter of getting to the finish line.  It really is a huge driver in getting health care costs under control.

But there's not going to be preventive health care for the people who need it most if they can't get to the doctor.  And that's what we're about.  And that's what all of these coalitions are about and that's why we need to stay focused on that.

Another is job access.  This is very important as the Administration seeks to advance the economic recovery.

A third area that we're working with is how to better serve our returning veterans.  America has an obligation to make a special effort to help heal, reintegrate and support the huge number of returning veterans that are coming home from service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And I know this is something very close to the heart of CTAA effort as well.  We want to work together, to make sure that human service transportation plans address these needs.

And fourth, we want to make government more open.  And we want to make this process more open.

That means that getting more people to take place, and take part in the public decision making process.

Last November we took a major step in implementing the President's policy on open government.  We conducted for the first time a two week interagency electronic town hall meeting with stakeholders to get their views on what we should be doing to improve transportation services for persons with disabilities, older adults, and persons with low income.

Many of the ideas that came out of that meeting will inform CCAM actions in the future.

You know, we were talking this morning about this board meeting, and I want to emphasize to all of you, the Obama administration is really quite serious about improving the pace of dialogue, the directness of dialogue, there are a lot of very earnest, very skilled young people in the White House, who are looking at new ways, especially through new media, to communicate, with not just voters, they did some historic work during the election on voters.  But now the challenge is about communicating with the American people and using those tools to serve them better through their government.

I'm committed to that as well.

We've been able to see the strength of some of it and in some early efforts of FTA but I hope you'll see a lot more in the future.

One of the things I also want to do as FTA Administrator, now that I've been there for a full year, you know, I arrived there and the Recovery Act, if you will, was burning the house down.  We had a lot of other issues we want to turn our attention to - a lot of new initiatives that we're looking at.  But we did not want to cease in our efforts to improve our baseline of business, our core efforts at executing grants our transit providers does so they can serve the public.

One of the ways I want to do that is to improve just the basic level of clarity that the FTA provides to all of our customer groups.

It's clarity as it relates to the issues like Title VI compliance.  It's clarity and consistency on what we mean under the Buy America Act; clarity and consistency on what is required under ADA; clarity and consistency on what is required to help disadvantage business enterprises participate in our grants.  This Administration and I personally take these laws and initiatives very seriously and we want and expect you to do the same.

But an important part of our job is to communicate clearly.  An important part of our job is to at tend to these issues.  Many of you - who are true professionals in our industry - you know that FTA does not always articulate our positions with great clarity.

You also know, if you've moved in your career from one FTA region to the next, that we may not give a consistent answer one region to the next.

We are working on that.

As I said this morning, I do not want to stifle ingenuity.  Stifle good ideas and to do things different and better in the regions.  But I also don't want ten methods of doing business.  I think we owe America better than that.

The Office of Program Management under the leadership of Susan Schruth developed standard operating procedures over the course of the last year for our grant making function.  I'm hoping that will help.

It's going to hopefully eliminate what is sometimes referred to as the oral culture at the FTA.

It is, what we mean by that, is not in the highest most prized visions of an oral culture in the area of folklore, but really, the oral culture by which a new FTA employee comes in and learns our processes.

That's why, when you've got ten different ways of doing business in ten different regions and each of their own oral culture, you've got their descendents learning the different way of doing it.  I frankly want not only for there to be consistency in how we communicate with the public with our procedures and our guidance for users groups, but I also want to be able to present opportunities where somebody can move from region four in Atlanta, to region ten in Seattle overnight, and fit right in and know what we're doing because the processes and the rules are the same.

When we went about the business of developing the standard operating procedures for the grant making function, we discovered between two of our regions for the same singular grant making activity, one region had a questionnaire that was four pages long.  Another had a questionnaire that was 24 pages long.

I'm not here to say whether the four page one was right and the 24 page one was wrong or vice versa.  It's probably somewhere in the middle.  But I know that they both can't be right.  So, this all won't be fixed tomorrow.  But it will be fixed.  It's a simple sign of professionalism that we owe to all of our partners and all of our grantees and frankly to the transit riding public out there.

So I ask for your assistance in helping us get there.  We talked this morning, with your board, about how we can improve communication to get a better fix on how CTAA can inform our processes earlier.

Those that are, by which we're not constrained by law, by which we can have a dialogue on not just figuring out a way to make it most consistent and useful to the FTA, but also critically important to our grant recipients and to our other partners who perform the function.

So, in summary, I want to say thanks to all of you for let me take my first full lap and inviting me back.  We don't say it enough.  But I just want to thank you for the job you do for the riding public every day.

In my first series of speeches when I took this job, I made the point that this President has expectations and aspirations for public transportation that his predecessor did not.  Whether it's the President's goal to reduce greenhouse gases, reduce our dependence on foreign oil, make our communities more livable, improve the quality of life for elderly so they can age at home, help get people to preventive health care, public transportation is at the middle of his vision.  It requires all of us to step up our game, even when financial times are hard.  We need to do things harder and smarter.

And we at the FTA are determined to step up our game and we look forward to being a full partner with you, as you do the same.  So, thanks for having me.

(Applause)