On May 26, 2010, FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan was awarded “Woman of the Year” by the San Francisco Chapter of Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) International. WTS promotes the professional development and advancement of women in the transportation industry.
Addressing a diverse crowd of professionals and students from all corners of the transportation spectrum, Deputy Administrator McMillan spoke to the challenge of tackling the national transportation agenda amidst the myriad issues facing the country, and some of the accomplishments the Administration and Secretary LaHood have achieved to date.
As a San Francisco Bay Area resident who temporarily resides in Washington, DC, McMillan offered a unique glimpse into the personal struggles inherent to pursuing a bicoastal career and lifestyle, while being separated from her husband and children for long periods of time.
McMillan said, “I’m in Washington, DC, because [my family] said ‘yes—go.’ But that was a very hard yes. There are layers of sacrifice we never realized would be so hard. This ‘yes’ meant shifting overnight from double duty parenting, to a single parent household. It meant my daughter’s kisses goodnight, every night, turning into a nightly phone call trying to bridge 3,000 miles. And it meant many, many red eye flights to wring as much out of a weekend visit as humanly possible; and afterwards showering in the DOT exercise room before heading to the inevitable Monday meetings.
The Deputy Administrator also discussed one of her leading interests and goals. McMillan discussed her priority of helping to implement the Obama Administration’s, “new multi-federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities initiative,” which “brings together DOT, HUD and EPA to identify and coordinate planning and investment opportunities across our agencies, to support the common goal of more vibrant neighborhoods throughout the country.
Please read Deputy Administrator McMillan’s full speech (as prepared for delivery) below:
2010 WTS Award- Woman of the Year
Thank you so much, Alix and Kate, for the wonderful introduction. And thank you, San Francisco WTS, for this incredible honor. There are so many deserving women that could stand at the podium, and I am humbled to be the one here today—and very proud.
I have always maintained that the greatest rewards in your work, and in your life, are the relationships of family and friends that are forged throughout that life. That’s what remains, that’s what is remembered, and that’s what inspires going forward. There are many people in this room who have made that reality for me.
In my view, this award is as much or more about the 25 years of professional work here in the Bay Area that brought me to this remarkable (almost) year, serving as our nation’s capital as Deputy Administrator of FTA.
Let me first start by thanking the most important people that made that year happen—my family. My wonderful husband Rod and daughter Nadine are here tonight. My daughter Madeline is studying for finals after her first year at UC Irvine. Their support means so much.
I’m in Washington DC, because they said “yes—go.” But that was a very hard yes. There are layers of sacrifice we never realized would be so hard.
--This “YES” meant shifting overnight from double duty parenting, to a single parent household.
-- It meant my daughter’s kisses goodnight, every night, turning into a nightly phone call trying to bridge 3,000 miles.
-- And it meant many, many red eye flights to wring as much out of a weekend visit as humanly possible; and afterwards showering in the DOT exercise room before heading to the inevitable Monday meetings.
So you need to applaud them, and the supporting cast of family and friends who make this a little bit easier—not least of which is the FTA team led by Administrator Peter Rogoff; and Region IX Administrator Leslie Rogers who is here today, and gives me a home office in San Francisco. They have supported my bi-coastal craziness with amazing grace, and been staunchly in my corner. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
So I want to share a bit of my perspective on what I have been able to do, what I have learned, and what I hope to accomplish during my DC experience—to leave with you as committed women and men in transportation. I especially want to acknowledge our scholarship winners tonight, and the other young women who want to make this wonderful profession their own.
I’ll start with an apt analogy of work at the DOT, at least as I have experienced it. On my honeymoon, Rod and I went to Hawaii. It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and one of the most daunting in its beauty. I vividly recall going to a secluded beach on Kauai, I believe, where the waves were just pounding the shore. Now I’m a strong swimmer, but I’ve always had a healthy respect for Mother Ocean, and that day, I was ready to just lie well back on the sand and read a book.
My more adventuresome husband however, said “You can do this. The trick is to dive INTO the wave before it knocks you down.” And that’s what I did—though it took a healthy bit of courage and belief. But if you timed it right, and plunged straight into this wall of water, you did emerge onto the calmer face of the ocean.
Much of the time in Washington it feels like that—plunging head first into wave, after wave, after wave before it knocks you down. Let me tell you—national policy is HARD. There is nothing easy about it. Advancing anything in Washington is Herculean, and no Department has the luxury of isolating itself within its own box.
-- It is bemusing (on good days) and intensely annoying (on bad days) hearing the lament “Why haven’t you guys done anything about Reauthorization??? ”
-- Well let me see—with President Obama not yet 18 months in office, his Administration has had to tackle a drowning economy and launch a massive Recovery act to help prop it up, relentlessly pursue and achieve ground-breaking Health Care legislation, deal with controversial Financial Reform, and address the huge oil spill in the Gulf that could be one of the great environmental crises in years. Oh, and let’s not forget Afghanistan, Haiti and North Korea. Perhaps state donor/donee percentage splits might have to wait in line a bit.
But we aren’t sitting on our collective DOT hands by any means. Secretary LaHood has been committed from the beginning to all manner of transportation initiatives that are breaking new ground. In the time available after juggling crises that fall out of the sky-- like Toyota--, we have been busy
-- delivering over $40 billion in transportation related Recovery Act funds
-- standing up an entirely new High Speed Rail program from scratch
-- advancing safety initiatives for transit, and the Eliminate Distracted Driving campaign,
-- and developing a completely new DOT strategic plan (which you can access on the web, and comment on, mind you) which features, among other things, a strong “state of good repair” goal in addition to supporting more—and more strategic—investment in new transportation infrastructure.
Reauthorization will happen. This Administration will be there. But it must happen at the right time, because we only have one chance to do it right.
Let me delve a bit more into one particular effort that I have been closely connected with—the new multi-federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities initiative. As you know, this effort brings together DOT, HUD and EPA to identify and coordinate planning and investment opportunities across our agencies, to support the common goal of more vibrant neighborhoods throughout the country.
As the FTA Leadership point for this initiative, I and the DOT team working with HUD and EPA are committed to make this a viable initiative for all parts of the American landscape—urban, suburban and rural. There are incredible things happening in Boston, AND in Fargo, North Dakota. Re-visioning is happening in Phoenix and Tucson—well known suburban areas, as well as “traditional” hot beds of sustainable thinking, like Portland and Minneapolis.
-- The San Francisco Bay Area is to be lauded for advancing these “livability” concepts for many years, and I appreciate my past contributions to that. What is it is most gratifying for me, however, is not to preen on those past laurels, but to REALLY listen with an educated ear to other areas and their lessons—many just starting out, and swimming against a sea of cynicism.
In these continuing times of economic stress, this Partnership program has consistently been a source of fresh thinking, and – dare I say—HOPE for a different kind of future. It embodies what this Administration is all about.
-- Our hope with this and many other initiatives is to plant the seeds and grow roots deep enough to carry on after we the political appointees are gone.
Because it’s not about the efforts of any single individual—it’s about a collective” us”. I do believe I am a leader, but one that serves a purpose and goal much bigger than me.
I’ll close with a story that weaves all of these themes together. I was in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in April on a Partnership Livability tour of the city, but was desperate to get home early because my daughter was sick.
-- Nancy Homas, assistant to St. Paul’s Mayor, tagged along the entire tour in her own car to make sure I could get to the airport in time to catch the only direct afternoon flight to San Francisco.
- On the way, we talked about FTA’s work, what the City was trying to do to remake its neighborhoods, and our respective paths as professional women that, in a fashion, had brought us together in her car that afternoon.
During the next couple days I received the following e-mail:
I was thinking about you over the weekend and hoping that all with your daughter was resolved by the time you had to return to DC. Your story prompted my husband and I to talk at dinner about how fortunate our country is that so many bright and committed people are willing to make such significant personal sacrifices in order to serve the greater good. Thank you....”
I have not yet met the President, or the First Lady. Maybe I never will.
-- But I met Nancy Homans.
-- Those moments make everything worth it. I wish such moments to you—in your career, and in your life.
Thank you for this award.