Federal communications professional David Barnes was profiled by PR Week in October 2006 about his role as Director of Communications for the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General.
NEWSMAKERBarnes helps IG office balance DOT, media trafficBY TED MCKENNA later served as press secretary for a New Jersey“OVERSEEING THE overseers” is one way congressman, and then, among other things,to describe what the Office of the Inspector worked as a reporter at a couple of differentGeneral (IG) does for any US government transportation titles, Traffic World andagency. Transport Topics. At the Department of Transportation (DOT), Bloomberg reporter Jonathan Salant, whofor example, the IG investigates a whole range used to cover the DOT for the AP, says thatof activities, from building contractors who use contrary to some government agencies thatfaulty materials to airlines that cut costs on force reporters to file Freedom of Informationrepairs and maintenance to DOT staff who requests to find out about reports, Barnes’steal office equipment. office always makes an extra effort to notify As watchdog for the 12 DOT agencies, includ- journalists about new reports.ing the Federal Aviation Administration and the “To compare with other agencies I won’tFederal Highway Administration, the IG often name, who just don’t want to tell you anything,plays a role in major scandals - the notorious Big here’s the watchdog who’s more than willingDig project in Boston, for example. However, to tell you anything,” says Salant, who recentlycommunications director David Barnes stresses became president of the National Press Club.that the IG always seeks to appear balanced - to “[David] was a great person to work with; hebe providing constructive criticism as opposed could even get you through to the boss. Ito playing “gotcha.” Part of that is making sure talked to [former IG] Ken Mead for a lot of DAVID BARNESthe rest of the DOT knows about a forthcom- stories.”ing report before it’s released publicly, so that no Appointed by the President and confirmed 2003-presentone gets caught off guard. by the Senate, the IG cannot be fired at will by Comms director,U.S.Dept.of Transportation Office of Inspector General But avoiding the appearance of grandstand- the President, unlike agency secretaries, whiching can be difficult because of the natural reac- gives the IG a degree of independence that is 2000-2003tion by reporters when they hear about new crucial to effective oversight. A new DOT IG, Public affairs officer, DOT IG Officeinstances of malfeasance. Calvin Scovel, was recently confirmed by the “I have to sometimes restrain myself and say, Senate to replace Mead, so Barnes and other 1999-2000‘No, don’t put that on page one!’ when they’re members of the communications staff will be Senior correspondent, Transport Topics[panting], ‘Yeah, great, page one!’” Barnes meeting with Scovel to work out his philoso-says. “We make strong recommendations, and phy about public outreach. 1998reporters tend to pick up on them. I try to de- To date, Barnes says, a big part of his job has VP of public affairs, American Trucking Associationsensationalize our work, to say, ‘Yes, we found been making sure reporters and the public insome serious issues with this agency, but it’s general understand that the IG’s office makesimportant to note that it is doing some things recommendations on problems and potential approximately 100 investigators and 250 audi-right.’” solutions, but can’t order anyone to do any- tors, who cover a department with 60,000 An American University graduate with a thing. Publicity from the media can certainly staffers and an annual budget of $58 billion,bachelor’s degree in journalism, Barnes says help the IG office ensure that its recommen- can be aided by investigative reporting aroundhe’s always been interested in journalism and dations are acted upon and also serves as a kind the US.politics, and his career to date reflects that. of deterrent by showing that wrongdoing leads “If reporters look at how money is beingBarnes began as a political reporter for small to prosecutions and punishment. spent, oftentimes they’ll dig up issues that wenewspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, In addition, work done by the IG office’s subsequently investigate,” Barnes says. ■ David Barnes 571-243-6315 Dbarnes431@cox.net Reprinted from .com October 23, 2006