Question: Air traffic controllers are caught napping, holes blow open in jetliners, planes bump into each other on a busy runway--and suddenly the Federal Aviation Administration finds itself the object of national criticism and derision. Agency officials were apparently aware of the potential problems but did not consider them urgent until they were exposed. How can leaders better identify the handful of incipient problems that genuinely requiring immediate attention and create enough urgency around them to overcome internal conflicts and bureaucratic inertia?
As I remember from my experience on the 9/11 Commission, we regarded the FAA as the least responsive and accurate to our inquiries of all federal agencies. So its problems are by no means new.
At the same time, it is important to remember that its employees work under far greater stress and with far more catastrophic potential consequences from failure than accompanies the work of the vast bulk of other federal employees. It is very difficult for revolving political officers at the head of the agency to implement strong leadership traits over permanent civil servants during their short terms in office. Perhaps it is time to consider relaxing some of the complicated work rules accompanying that civil service status and giving those leaders authority comparable to that in the private sector to promulgate and implement effective management standards--and then rightly to be held responsible for the consequent performance.
Slade Gorton | Apr 19, 2011 12:20 PM