Robert Johns began his appointment as senior fellow at the University of Minnesota in January 2016. He teaches in the leadership and management area of the University’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and conducts and supports transportation-related research in the Humphrey School’s urban and regional planning area.
Prior to joining the University, Johns served as director of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, a fee-for-service federal organization that conducts approximately $300 million in annual research for its clients, including DOT modal administrations and other federal agencies. Approximately 570 federal employees and 500 on-site contractors carry out these research programs at Volpe.
In his role as Volpe director, Johns worked with Volpe clients to expand sponsored research and innovation programs, including modeling for improving the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, technical assistance and oversight for high speed rail projects, acceleration of highway research implementation, and expanded research for the NextGen air traffic control system.
Johns also led high profile priorities for the Secretary of the Department of Transportation, including the writing of Beyond Traffic 2045, Secretary Foxx’s 30-year framework for transportation and strategic planning activities for Secretary LaHood’s transformation of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. He received the Secretary’s Partnership in Excellence Award in 2012 and in 2015.
Internally, Johns led two strategic planning efforts, resulting in initiatives that included new leadership programs and an annual Innovation Challenge competition. He restructured Volpe, receiving four new senior executive positions. His emphasis on improving processes led to an 11 percent reduction in Volpe’s overhead rate. In 2015, he was named Federal Executive of the Year by the Greater Boston Federal Executive Board.
Nationally, Johns is active in the Transportation Research Board (TRB) of the National Academies. From 2008 to 2011, he chaired the TRB Technical Activities Council, which oversees the research and outreach activities of 200 technical committees. In honor of his leadership for TRB, he was named a National Associate by the National Academies and an Emeritus Member of TRB’s Policy and Organization Group Executive Board.
Prior to joining Volpe in 2009, Johns served as director of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Minnesota. He led major interdisciplinary research programs on transportation and community design, access to destinations, and transportation and regional growth. The University awarded him its Richard P. Braun Distinguished Service Award for Research Leadership in 2012.
Before joining the University in 1988, he held research and management positions with the Santa Fe Railway, the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and the Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities. He has a BS degree in engineering operations from Iowa State University and MBA and MA degrees from the University of Iowa.