Top 40 Under 40 2013: Brian Farber

Sept. 13, 2013

Brian Farber was appointed by the Obama Administration in April 2010 to serve as associate administrator for Communications and Congressional Affairs at the Federal Transit Administration. Farber is leading his team through an extraordinary period of transformative growth and revitalization for public transportation in the United States.

He continues to spearhead the FTA's response to media and Congressional inquiries in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the single greatest disaster ever to befall the nation’s transit system. Farber led the rollout of the FTA's nearly $6 billion in response, recovery and initial resiliency funding allocations appropriated by the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, which President Obama signed into law on January 29, 2013. And, Farber continues to be involved in the development of a discretionary program using the remaining $5 billion in emergency funding to make the most impacted transit agencies more resilient in the face of future storms or major disasters.

Farber is leading the public rollout and education of the provisions of the new transportation law, “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP-21). MAP-21 brings with it historic new safety oversight authority for the FTA; the FTA was formerly prohibited from implementing and enforcing even the most basic minimum safety standards since 1964. He helped lead the legislative effort to create that new authority in MAP-21.

Farber and his team led the development of the Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative, a two-time, $65 million discretionary program that used existing funding to develop one-call/one-click centers nationwide to aid veterans, military personnel and their families in finding rides to work, school, medical appointments or wherever they need to go by transit. Military families sometimes struggle during transfers from base to base domestically, or when a spouse is forward deployed, but finding a ride to maintain a job and earn a paycheck shouldn't be one of those burdens.

Public transit isn’t just about getting people where they need to go; it is far more than that. Robust investments in public transit create jobs and economic development. Farber has consistently put transit manufacturers and suppliers at the forefront of many of the visits made by senior administration and department officials, including former-Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. And, Farber has led the outreach effort to broadcast the FTA's success in protecting American jobs by enforcing and strengthening Buy America federal requirements.

Farber continues to advance new ways to establish transit's relevance outside the Washington Beltway. Under his leadership, Farber’s team led the redesign of what was considered by many an antiquated and ineffective website to make it more accessible not just to transit grantees, but to the FTA's core customer: the riding public. Farber has implemented a vigorous social media effort, including increasing Twitter followers from 1,000 followers at the time of his arrival to approximately 15,000 today. He led the creation of an FTA Facebook page that boasts nearly 700 fans less than a year after launch.

The Office of Communications and Congressional Affairs is also the home for FTA's public engagement program, correspondence and briefing team. Farber has coordinated dozens of White House roundtable meetings and other public engagement events to hear first-hand from community residents and local leaders what issues are most important to them — not just transit related — and has relayed those issues back to relevant departments for response. And, Farber’s office has coordinated the response to more than 2,000 pieces of correspondence in 2012 alone.

"There is nothing more enjoyable than waking up each day knowing that the work you do makes a real difference to millions of people in hundreds of communities across the nation. We are capturing the local vision of a city or community and helping to make that a reality; it doesn't get better than that.”

“The most enjoyable part of my job is the travel – albeit the most exhausting – through which I am able to see first-hand the transformative nature of the work that the Federal Transit Administration does in partnership with communities across the country. I’ve had the good fortune to visit 27 states and approximately 60 cities during my tenure at FTA.

“Meeting people in cities coast-to-coast who are enthusiastic about the change our partnership brings is energizing. The impacts that transit investments have are clear whether it’s a new maintenance facility providing a more comfortable and safe place for workers to do their jobs, new battery-electric buses testing the boundaries of innovation to reduce a city’s dependence on foreign oil, or a new transit rail line or bus rapid transit that will bring new economic development to a community.

“Wherever the FTA reinvests taxpayer dollars there is a story about residents working together toward a common vision for a better, stronger, more economically viable community and I find the shared goal and willingness to work together inspiring.

"This has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my professional career, but none of it would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the FTA career staff. They are extremely committed to the single mission of improving people’s lives and communities. They deserve the real recognition and credit for making the FTA standout among federal agencies.

“I would like to see greater bipartisan support in Congress for transit expansion and reinvestment in aging infrastructure nationwide so that communities may have reliable and efficient transportation choice and reap the proven benefits public transit brings. Public transit isn’t just a way to get from Point A to Point B; it’s an economic engine for communities, a way to ease congestion on roads, and an important asset in the fight to curb harmful greenhouse gases.

“I would like to see more transit investment in communities that traditionally may not have seemed ripe for public transit; where naysayers have said it could not take root. We’ve seen great success in places like Dallas — a city that now hosts more miles of light rail than any other — and Phoenix — where high school students take rail to the prom. Opponents thought that transit could not draw people from their cars, but indeed ridership in both of these cities is surpassing all initial planning estimates. Public transit has proven that if you build it, riders will absolutely come.

“My most enjoyable new pastime is spending time with my nine-month-old son, Will. He has brought an unexpected joy to my world. When my wife Kate and I have a moment to slip away leaving Will with a babysitter, we both enjoy time fishing and kayaking. There’s nothing like quiet time paddling and fishing along the Potomac here in Washington, D.C., or on one of the many lakes in Maine. Sometimes finding a proper work/life balance can be a challenge, so I look forward to our little escapes.

“Being named one of Mass Transit Magazine’s ‘Top 40 Under 40’ is a pleasant reminder that I am indeed still under 40 years old, no matter how exhausted I look or feel right now.”