Posted October 7, 2004
Early in the coming year, Arthur J. Libertucci, Administrator of the newest Bureau in the Treasury Department, will retire. When we got together for a recent interview, he talked of how he came to work in Federal service, how our organization and work have changed over the years, and what the future may hold.
Mr. Libertucci graduated in 1969 with a Bachelor's degree in political science from Providence College in Rhode Island. It was a time of national focus on the conflict in Vietnam. When he reported to serve his Country, the draft board sent him home. Because of a failed physical, Mr. Libertucci was able to join a friend in taking the Federal Service Entrance Examination.
When the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division of the Internal Revenue Service, primarily a tax agency at the time, made a job offer in 1969, "I took the job, because I needed it and because being an ‘inspector' sounded interesting," Libertucci said.
Surprisingly, he never planned on a Government career and kept open his option of leaving Federal service for almost 20 years.
The IRS made the initial job offer and withdrew it within 1 week due to a freeze in hiring. When the ATF Division's New York office received permission to hire, Libertucci began work as an inspector in March 1970. His career has spanned more than 30 years in an organization with a history that goes back to colonial days.
After this uncertain start, Mr. Libertucci held many positions. He went to Albany in 1972 and Headquarters in 1975. He became New York Area Supervisor in 1977 and has been in management since, serving as Chief of Field Operations for the North Atlantic Region; then Chief of Regulations and Procedures Division; Deputy Associate Director (Compliance); Assistant Director (Administration) (Chief Financial Officer); Associate Director (Compliance Operations); and Assistant Director (Science and Information Technology) (Chief Information Officer).
Libertucci next served as ATF's Assistant Director for the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco until 2003, when Secretary Snow appointed him the first Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau Administrator.
During his tenure, the same organization was called by different names and reformed again and again. The Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division under IRS became the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 1972, and, finally, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau in January 2003, an Agency that endures.
Mr. Libertucci discussed three attempts to abolish the then ATF. In 1980, the Reagan Administration and others sought to transfer Bureau firearms- and tax-related functions to other agencies. The second time abolishment was discussed came in 1993 after the failed attempt to arrest David Koresh in Waco, Texas.
More recently, the Homeland Security Act of 2002, written to tighten U.S. defenses after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, eliminated the Treasury Department's entire Office of Enforcement. Unfortunately, in its first form, the Act was silent on the subject of ATF. When approached about inclusion, White House representatives demurred and planned to place ATF within the Justice Department.
In the first and last cases, alcohol beverage stakeholders had a big say in the final outcome. The Administrator explains that such private sector involvement is part and parcel of our governing process. The governed and the governors work together in a "reasonable and fair regulatory process."
Because he found regulatory work "complex, fascinating, and fun," the Administrator rode it all out. He had to reschedule his wedding after being transferred, then faced reassignments, reductions-in-force, and reorganizations. These experiences taught him to "take people into account. As a manager, you learn you can't force people to change. You must set up an environment that people want to excel in."
Excel, he did. Mr. Libertucci has much of which to be proud. He was part of selling the idea of information technology (Enterprise Architecture) to the ATF Executive Staff and was involved at the beginning of ATF taking the SEAT management approach of outsourcing computer equipment, systems, and support. The Administrator helped convince a resistant ATF Executive Staff of the advantages of using technology as a way to increase productivity. He says, "That seems like ages ago!"
Finally, capping a long and distinguished career, Libertucci says he has had the "challenge, fun, and privilege of starting a new organization. It's been great working with so many creative, energetic, and hardworking people, who made the last 2 years the best time in my career. Everybody in TTB today should be proud of what they accomplished in such a short time."
When asked what has been the greatest change in the regulatory environment since he began his career, Administrator Libertucci said, "The public's attitude toward alcohol consumption. People are much more aware of, and concerned with, excessive alcohol consumption and know not to drink and drive. Alcohol beverage companies also are much more active with alcohol education programs and are beginning to promote responsible consumption more aggressively."
In terms of lessons learned, Libertucci cautions, "Don't get comfortable, because things will change. Getting too comfortable can lead to one's downfall, but I don't think the Bureau, the people I know, will ever let that happen."
As Mr. Libertucci looks ahead, he has no immediate plans to work. "After a time," though, he "will probably work part time." He looks forward to golfing, fishing, exercising, gardening, and completing projects around the house.
Regarding the Bureau, the Administrator predicts that TTB will not see staff increase much. So, it must "be creative and innovative and manage money carefully." He sees our greatest challenges in the areas relating to public health, "known labeling issues, as well as the unknown."
Administrator Libertucci has earned his time of rest, but TTB will go on - without this creative man who says he has gotten better and better at listening and learning from others. That is our loss.