"NextGen: Connecting Across the Agency"
Michael Huerta, Schaumburg, Illinois
June 27, 2012

Employee Joint Training Conference

Good morning everyone. Thank you, Jo (Tarrh, Director, Tech Ops, Central Service Area) for that introduction. It’s great to see all of you. I am so glad I could join you today.

I want to congratulate you for coming together to hold this joint conference. This is an historic event – bringing together five employee associations for the first time. Can I get all of the association presidents to stand, please? I would really like to congratulate all of the employee association presidents here today. You worked together to create a fantastic synergy. We asked you to demonstrate a spirit of collaboration and teamwork and you have not only captured it but you are showcasing it here, in putting this conference on.

This conference symbolizes the diversity of the FAA, and it symbolizes our strength. I know we have a lot of folks from Tech Ops here, as well as air traffic, flight standards, planning, logistics and many other areas of the agency. What unifies us is our commitment to safety and professionalism, and a commitment to diversity and to listening to one another as people and as employees at the greatest agency in government. As you know, we are all open to different viewpoints, and this openness is what makes us stronger as an organization. As Malcolm Forbes put it so aptly, “People who matter are most aware that everyone else does too.”

Workplace diversity is important to me, personally. In order to have the best team in place, we need the right people in the right jobs. We need people who can do it all – who can work across the agency in a collaborative manner.

I know you have all heard us talk about Destination 2025. It’s our new flight plan and our vision for how aviation will evolve in the next 15 years.

We need to continue to make progress on our goals through Destination 2025, as well as all of the specific goals we have laid out in our lines of business and staff office’s business plans.

But there is one core principle that we all need to think about in everything that we do.

We need to ask ourselves – how are the results that I am delivering through my work at the FAA meaningful and tangible to the American people? If we always remind ourselves who we serve – our fellow taxpayers and the traveling public – it helps guide us in the right direction and that is something we can’t lose sight of.

Earlier this year, Congress passed, and the President signed a long-term reauthorization that put an end to four-and-half-years of stop-gap extensions. The reauthorization gives the FAA greater financial guidance and it gives greater stability to our programs.

And as you know, President Obama honored me with the nomination to lead this great agency as we undertake the challenges ahead. Last week I appeared before a Congressional committee regarding my appointment and I listened to thoughts and direction from Congress. I am squarely focused on our top mission, which is ensuring the safety of our nation’s aviation system for the traveling public.

Creating and building a safety culture is of paramount importance. We have made great strides in collaboration with our workforce to open up the lines of communication to talk about safety.

And we know that in order to meet the challenges of transforming our air traffic control system, the FAA as an organization must itself also evolve.

We are facing a whole new way of thinking and operating. And we are positioning ourselves with stretch goals to meet these challenges in the months and years ahead.

Judging by the content of your training schedule at this conference, it looks like you are challenging yourselves to think differently about leadership, technology and professional development.

These themes also are in-sync with the three areas where I have asked senior leadership to focus, and where I think everyone at the FAA should focus in our day-to-day work.

  • Number one, we all know, is making the safest aviation system in the world even safer and smarter, and I put the emphasis on smarter.
  • Number two, is accelerating the benefits of new technology – and here I have really emphasized benefits for the public now. And how we deliver them now.
  • And number three, is making sure that we empower you – our 48,000 employees – to embrace innovation and to work efficiently, particularly as we look at very tight budgetary times.

Let me first address the safety area.

Safety is our mission and our number one priority. We have a very safe system now, but we cannot rest on our laurels. We are moving from a system of accident investigation and forensic study, to a proactive analysis of data. We want to understand what might happen so that we can make changes to address safety risks. That’s a smarter way of doing business.

The aviation industry is a leader in using data to analyze risk. We have several airline safety programs that are based on individuals who report errors and safety-related information. They do so with reasonable protection from company discipline or FAA enforcement.

At the FAA we have created similar safety databases, based on non-punitive reporting for air traffic controllers and for Tech Ops.

The result is an abundance of safety information that otherwise would probably not come to light—and it gives us the ability to work collaboratively to analyze it across different operators and different types of employees in the aviation industry.

Our goal is to understand the behavior and correct it, to enhance our safety culture.

The program for Tech Ops is the newer of the two, so let me give you an update. Last October, we began collecting reports online as part of the Technical Operations Safety Action Program, or T-SAP. You know that pilots have ASAP and controllers have ATSAP. And now Tech Ops is getting T-SAP.

We are testing this Tech Ops program right now with about 2,200 employees in the central service area who can submit voluntary safety reports online. Everybody across the board in the central service area is eligible to participate – PASS members, non-union employees and managers.

So far, the program has resulted in 21 corrective action requests and we’ve solved seven of those problems. We are improving safety across the nation because of the things we are learning through this program, and we plan to expand it next year.

These kinds of voluntary, non-punitive reports help us all continuously improve awareness and training, so employees are equipped to handle a wide variety of situations. This is one of the ways we are being more collaborative and much smarter about safety.

Now, when talking about delivering the benefits of technology and empowering employees, I’d like to take these two together because one cannot happen without the other.

NextGen is a huge transformation. We all know that our people play an important role in making all of this happen. What will make us successful is inspiring all of you to work creatively and to build a solid future. We have to leverage the innovation, the inspiration, and the creativity of people not just in the FAA, but across the entire aviation industry.

As part of Destination 2025, we realized that we need to change our human resources model. At the FAA, people are our strength. And with NextGen, we will become even more interconnected. When facing this kind of fundamental change, it’s in our best interest to rethink the way we do business.

We are facing a generational change in our workforce at the FAA. Nearly one third of our workers in several critical areas will be eligible to retire by the end of 2014. This includes air traffic controllers, tech ops, engineers and contract specialists.

We will need to hire for these job areas and others. We are well along the way from moving from baby boomers to GenXers and Millennials in air traffic control and other areas.

It turns out that what has been an ongoing and profound change in the FAA workforce has a positive side in terms of moving the workforce towards embracing new technology.

We have noticed that the Millennial workers have a very different orientation to technology. They are much more comfortable with all kinds of technology and they are demanding that we use it, that we evolve it and that we have the best new technology available to us

That being said, we have employees from all generations who are comfortable with technology and dedicated to using it in new ways. We all need to move in that direction.

We are open to ideas for how to get the word out about the evolving opportunities at the FAA.

The transformation to NextGen will create many opportunities and also many evolving rolls for many different skill sets.

The President talks a lot about infrastructure and its importance. NextGen is one of the largest infrastructure projects in the country, and it will be a shared responsibility between the agency, our contractors and our users. It is a public-private venture and very cooperative in nature.

To better prepare ourselves for NextGen, we are trying to improve our hiring process and we look forward to your efforts and your thoughts on ways to further improve how we find and recruit new FAA employees. Please continue to work towards honing these ideas into proposals that we can develop. Sharing these ideas on IdeaHub is a good way to generate a conversation and get feedback and support.

We need to draw on the strength of America's diversity to help us build the best team to lead our agency forward. And it’s important that we make sure that we support employees and create an environment in which each and every one of us has what they need to thrive and make meaningful contributions to the future of aviation.

With NextGen, we are moving from radar to satellites, from radios to data messages and from airways that zig-zag the country to more direct routes. It’s not just the United States, it’s the whole world that’s going in this direction.

So it affects each and every one of you, no matter what line of business you are in – air traffic, safety, airports, commercial space or staff offices.

Listening to different perspectives and collaborating across all aspects of the agency is absolutely critical to our ability to deploy NextGen successfully.

That’s because implementing NextGen is similar to aligning a Rubik’s cube. If we change one side of the square, it will impact and affect all the other sides just like it would affect all aspects of our agency. There will be ripple effects throughout the system. If I certify an aircraft to perform new functions, this will impact air traffic control. If I am a controller and land planes in a new way, this is going to impact Tech Ops when they’re trying to fix equipment. If Tech Ops changes the way it fixes equipment, this will impact the airport. And if the airport adds new equipment, this can impact everyone.

That is why an interdisciplinary way of looking at things will be even more necessary as technology moves forward. We need to improve our skills at functioning together as a unified organization.

I think the point here is that each of us needs to be open to new possibilities. And this is where diversity is so important. We can’t afford to think the same old way. We have to look at our jobs differently and make changes. We have to be innovative and creative. Diversity will help us achieve this common goal and is very important for the agency.

Like we have been saying all along, diversity is going to be the key to our success. So, I want to thank all of you for coming to this training conference. And thank you for your dedication in helping each line of business improve its performance across the agency, develop leaders and help the FAA function much better as a team.

I know you have a great agenda for the week and I encourage you all to participate and enjoy the conference.