David S. Kim, 52
Deputy Administrator, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), U.S. Department of Transportation
Hometown: Davis, CA
How did you get here?
Before the Obama Administration, I worked in senior management for a local transportation agency. After the election, it dawned on me there was a tremendous opportunity to join an historic Administration and work on transportation issues at a national level. So I decided to throw my hat in the ring. Thanks to incredible support and assistance by many, I was given the opportunity to join the U.S. Department of Transportation in the summer of 2009 and have been here ever since.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your career?
My parents, Luke and Grace Kim. They’re the reason I’ve been in public service my entire life. They set an incredible example for me and my brother growing up years ago in Davis, CA. They’re highly unusual for first-generation Korean immigrants in several respects. First, they came here in the late 1950’s, well before the big wave of immigration in the 60s and 70s and well before there was a Korean American community to speak of.
Second, they held very unusual jobs.My dad, who passed away last year, was a psychiatrist who spent his entire career working in the California prison system. He provided psychiatric treatment for some of the most hard core criminals of our time, including Charles Manson and Sirhan Sirhan, to name a few. He was also heavily involved in cultural psychiatry and in particular, mental health issues facing recent immigrants from Asia. My mom also deviated from the norm as far as jobs go. She was a high school teacher, but she didn’t teach math, history, science or anything like that. She taught sex education. Pretty unusual for a first-generation immigrant.
Third, both of them dedicated their lives to community service. And it wasn’t just through their 9-to-5 jobs. They threw themselves into civic activities of every kind, whether it was in local politics, church, nonprofit advocacy groups, you name it. They were true believers in the idea that you have to get involved and you have to speak up – not just for yourself but for the community at large – otherwise you simply do not exist and you only reinforce the stereotype that Asian Americans are content to sit on the sidelines watching the game, but not playing in the game. So perhaps it was through osmosis or just by witnessing firsthand their example that I, too, eventually came to understand the value of community and public service and would find myself going down a similar path as them.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment during the Obama administration?
A few things come to mind. First, working closely with our transportation partners at the state and local level and developing strong, collaborative relationships. Nothing can be accomplished in the transportation arena without excellent cooperation and coordination between federal, state and local government, and FHWA has done a solid job in this area over the years. While I was a part of that effort, it’s really a total team effort.
Second, in my previous role as FHWA’s Associate Administrator for Policy and Governmental Affairs, I led and managed a team of 75 career employees. It was an incredible experience working with intelligent people who were so invested in the purpose of the agency and felt a deep sense of mission. If I could point to an accomplishment in that role, it would be developing trust and open communication with a large team of people, which is sometimes a challenging thing to do.
Third, I’ve always believed strongly in the importance of mentoring others, especially those who are coming up behind us, and I’ve had the great honor of mentoring a number of young professionals within and outside USDOT who are committed to public service and will do great things in their life. Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta, who’s a role model for me and so many others, is fond of saying we have a personal responsibility to help groom those who are just starting out, just as we have all benefitted from the guidance and tutelage of those who have shown us the ropes and helped us become better leaders and better people. I’ve taken Norm’s words to heart and try as often as possible to share real-world lessons – including successes and failures – with those who will eventually take our place after we’re gone.
Can you describe your time working for the Obama administration in 10 words?
Intense, challenging, action-packed, frenzied, growth-inducing, gratifying. Incredible honor to serve.
Complete the sentence: “When I’m not working, I…”
am a hockey fanatic and closely follow my beloved Los Angeles Kings as much as possible. I also try to stay engaged with the Asian American Pacific Islander community through various organizations with which I’m involved.