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NEW @ THE ACADEMY

Meet Our Fellows: Don Bathurst (‘18)

Mr. Donald Bathurst retired from federal service December 31, 2018, as Executive Director for Emergency Preparedness at the Department of Homeland Security.  Throughout his career his areas of focus included strategic alignment, policy development, implementation and oversight for a variety of programs and risk management activities to ensure protection of people, property and mission in the face of potential dangers and threats including fire, weather events, natural disasters and terror attacks.     

Mr. Bathurst has served in a variety of positions in the Federal government involving risk management, real estate, property management, logistics, national security, safety, environmental programs and fire protection, as well as continuity of operations. 

From 2004 to 2012, he served as the Chief Administrative Officer for the Department of Homeland Security.  In 2004, he served as the Director of the Office of Asset Management at DHS. He played key roles in the standup of the Department.

Mr. Bathurst served at the Federal Emergency Management Agency as the Deputy Associate Director for Operations Support, as the Director of the National Dam Safety Program; and as the Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator, where he was instrumental in establishing counterterrorism training, coordinating anti-arson efforts, revitalizing fire research support and implementing facility upgrade plans for the National Emergency Training Center in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Prior to his service at FEMA, he spent more than 15 years at the General Services Administration where he served as the Chief Fire Protection Engineer.  He developed risk management programs and directed applied research projects developing fire effects models, forensic engineering tools and protection solutions for disabled building occupants.  He served on the National Fire Protection Association’s Board of Directors, and several Technical Committees, including Safety to Life. He also served in a variety of temporary roles including Director of Safety, Chief of Environmental Management, and Director of Repair and Alteration.

He started his career as a firefighter and Emergency Medical Technician in Prince William County, VA, and Prince George's County, MD.

His accomplishments have been recognized through numerous awards from within the government and the private sector, including the 1992 Arthur S. Flemming Award as one of the top five young managers in Federal service and the NSPE Federal Engineer of the Year award for GSA.  In 2011, the Federal Real Property Association named him Person of the Year. His contributions to risk management and fire performance estimation have been internationally recognized, most notably by the Society of Fire Protection Engineer's President's Award.  He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, a Fellow of the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, and a Life Member of NFPA. He received the Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive in 2009. 

During his 38-year career with the government, Mr. Bathurst was a member of the federal Government's Senior Executive Service for nearly 24 years.  He holds a Bachelor of Science in Fire Protection Engineering from the University of Maryland and a Master of Public Administration from American University, where his practicum project explored relationships between the Executive and Legislative Branches of the Federal Government. He is a member of the AU Key Executive Program Alumni Advisory Board.

The Academy heard from Don himself in a recent interview:

 

  1. What do you enjoy most about the work you do?

Almost all of my work is focused on protection of people and the built environment from the effects of fire, safety hazards, national disasters, and deliberate actions including terror attacks. I’ve also worked extensively on organizational efficiencies and mentoring people at all levels, which also helps in organizational efficiency.  This helps to enable the first objective. 

 

  1. How did you get involved in public service and what motivates you to continue your work?

I started my career journey as a volunteer firefighter and EMT.  My training and experience inculcated a desire to make a difference. While studying in the area of fire department management, I had a friend and mentor suggest I pursue fire protection engineering where I gained skills in risk management and building systems performance. This led to extensive work at the General Services Administration where we were able to take significant actions resulting in reducing losses and cost savings. These provided a foundation to take to other roles at FEMA and DHS, and continue to drive me to help support appropriate changes in our approach to supporting governance to provide for basic protection of the common good.

 

  1. What advice would you give someone entering the Public Administration field?

Be flexible. There are many functions and activities in public administration, and across that spectrum is constant change. While public administration includes political direction, policy development, and operations, the majority of the work in in the operations and those carrying out these functions must understand that political directions change based on the will of the governed (voters).  When political leadership changes, those who carry out the direction must be able to set aside their policy opinions and carry out the orders.  This does not mean to that one is blind to their moral compass, but most policy changes are opinion.  I’ve worked under seven presidents, and many of their political appointees. There are things I’ve liked about the presidents’ policies and other things, not so much. But, in general their appointees have been competent and open to discussion of approaches to implementation. 

 

  1. Looking at the present and into the future, what do you think a public administration “Grand Challenge” is or might be?

I submitted several recommendations to the call for Grand Challenges.  I see that we have a real skills gap, especially at the federal level that is resulting in a over-reliance on contract support, without well defined requirements and oversight.  This also requires that there be a serious discussion of the roles of government, at all levels.  And, we need the day-to-day support actions to be more predictable including clear and timely program authorization and appropriations.  (Continuing Resolutions are a major failure of responsibility and lead to massive inefficiencies and excessive costs!)

 

  1. Reflecting on your career, is there a highlight, a greatest accomplishment or a funny story you’d like to share?

One of the most impactful actions, or series of actions, was during my team at GSA.  I led a group of engineers as we developed and implemented a fire and safety risk management program.  We refined the effort in the area of fire protection working NIST on fire effects modeling which we were able to use in investigations, inspections, building evaluations and design.  We then took our tools and approaches to the national standards processes, and eliminated our internal standards thereby streamlining building design, construction, and management processes.  And, the protection strategies were then extended nationwide through the national standards.  Now, a generation later, we don’t hear of multi-fatal office building fires, or large fires in offices and hotels, and building designers use fire protection engineers to develop the protection strategies using next generation tools and approaches from those we developed. 

 

  1. If you could make a soundtrack to your life what is one song that would need to be on your playlist?

So many stir emotions or remind me of things from my past. But one that would have to on the playlist would be Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane.”Ah, but which version?While the original from the Velvet Underground’s “Loaded” album is simple, my favorite is the one (with the intro!) from Reed’s live “Rock and Roll Animal” album.Of course, his encore from the live presentation of his Berlin is really something.

 

  1. What was your first job?

I was a life guard. 

 

  1. What is your favorite time of the year and why?

I really like the fall.  Spring is really nice in DC, but in only lasts about 45 minutes!

 

  1. What is the best part about where you live?

Living in the metro DC area, I have access to so many things.  Unfortunately, I don’t take full advantage of all the area has to offer.  My neighborhood is quite and somewhat isolated but we can get to just about anything in 10-15 minutes.

 

  1. What is your pizza order?

Pepperoni, thin crust.  Although, mushroom and olive is good choice too.  I’ve had a real “Chicago Style” deep dish once, loved it, but can’t find anything like it around here (thick crust is not it!).

 

  1. If you could have a dinner party with anyone in history, who would you have dinner with and why?

I’ve used this question in interviews and it is interesting to hear the answers which often lead to other discussion.  In seeing it here, I’ve had a chance to reflect on what it means to me at this point in my life.  I’d like to have dinner and discussion with my father.  He died about 30 years ago, just a couple years older than I am now.  My mother died about 3 years ago and I’ve been going through paperwork and realized how much I did not know a lot about all he went through.  He came from a small town in Pennsylvania, fought in WWII, went home but soon re-enlisted, was accepted into OCS and completed a career in the Corps of Engineers, and other assignments including a combat tour in Vietnam.  But, in looking over various materials and records, I’ve found I have more questions than answers. 

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