Dale A. Petroskey is leaving the federal transportation bureaucracy to explore the world of The National Geographic Society.

"I wondered what political types like me do after 1988," said Petroskey, who now is assistant secretary for the Department of Transportation but will become National Geographic's director of public affairs next week. "I thought that I would be working in the auto or airlines industry, since I work for Transportation. I never dreamed I would end up at National Geographic."

The public affairs office is a creation of the Washington-based society's communications department, which was begun in September. The office will be responsible for organizing National Geographic President Gilbert M. Grosvenor's lecture schedule, contacting the press outside Washington about events, and setting up a speakers' bureau of experts who will speak on behalf of the society, Petroskey said.

"I will be doing the same things at National Geographic that I do here {at DOT}," Petroskey said. "I have learned how to deal with the day-to-day pressures and create long-range strategic plans."

Petroskey was picked for the job by another National Geographic newcomer, Robert B. Sims, who was named vice president for communications in September after working as the Defense Department's main spokesman.

"The society had to do more in terms of formal communications," Sims said.

One reason is the society's growth. One hundred years ago "the president of the society was also the editor of the magazine. Everyone knew everyone else," Sims said. Now, however, National Geographic is one of the world's largest nonprofit organizations, with 10.5 million members and about 2,400 employes.

"We have long felt that all of our programs should be supported by a public communications plan," Grosvenor said.

The society's latest campaign to turn around "the decline of geography education in our schools will depend upon public awareness and support," he said.

The communications department's primary tasks are to promote geography education in U.S schools and to help organize the society's centennial celebration in 1988. The public affairs office is part of the society's new approach to publicizing what it does, Petroskey said.

"We needed a grass roots approach with teachers, students, the public and the press," Sims said.

Petroskey is a Michigan native who founded a nationwide group of Detroit Tigers fans known as the Mayo Smith society, after a former Tigers manager. He worked with Sims in the office of the press secretary at the White House in 1985.

"I have worked with Petroskey in the White House, {and} I have followed his career at the Department of Transportation. I know he is someone who will be a valuable asset in our public outreach programs," Sims said.

Petroskey expects to hire a six people for the public affairs office.

"It was a tough decision to leave, because I like it here {at DOT}," Petroskey said. "But in the end, I thought, National Geographic only comes along once in a lifetime. I think this is it -- I am not going to move anymore."