International Visitors Seek TVA’s Secret to Success

After more than 83 years of service, TVA continues to be the standard for government leaders who wish to improve the quality of life of their nation’s citizens.

OCTOBER 18, 2014—The email that appeared in the inbox of TVA Government Relations Specialist T.J. Thompson wasn’t a surprise. As the foreign-government liaison for TVA, she routinely receives emails that come from countries around the world.

Thompson explained this particular message was a request by representatives of the Republic of Kenya to visit TVA as part of a fact-finding mission.

“Kenya has six Regional Development Authorities created at different times over the past 40 years to stimulate economic development,” explained Thompson. “They operate as separate entities that plan and implement programs in the different regions under their jurisdictions. The Kenya Parliament is studying how to best restructure the RDAs. One option would merge them into a single organization. They would like to know more about TVA and have asked that we open our doors.”

We did.

During their ensuing visit to the Knoxville Office Complex, George Nengo, Kenya’s parliamentary affairs senior director, explained the mission and challenge of the regional development authorities. “RDAs handle projects, such as flood and irrigation control, that cut across several counties, which are similar to your states,” he said. “Integration would be politically difficult because the counties want to maintain control over their own RDA, while the central government may want them to act as one organization to benefit the entire country.”

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Kenya government representatives Casper Sitemba and George Nengo look at the turbine shaft during a tour of TVA's Norris Dam.

Hoping to learn the secret of TVA’s continued successes that create economic opportunities while managing the fifth-largest river system in the United States, Nengo and Casper Sitemba, Kenya’s senior director of Intergovernmental Relations in the office of the deputy president, discussed financial and operational topics over three days with various company representatives. They also took a tour with plant manager Erik Bodiscomassink deep inside Norris Dam, the first hydroelectric facility built by TVA.

Their visit to East Tennessee left an indelible mark on the visitors from the East African nation. “Very impressive,” answered Sitemba, when asked his thoughts about his visit.

“TVA is a government agency that derives 99 percent of its revenue from the sale of electricity, yet you operate effectively and efficiently,” he mused. “In contrast, our RDAs operate under a number of constraints, including dependency on our national treasury. Laws have diverted funds to other institutions that do projects that RDAs should be doing.”

Although Nengo and Sitemba learned much about how TVA operates, Justin Maierhofer, vice president of Government Relations, said the secret behind TVA’s sustained success involves more than operational procedures and accounting practices.

“From the very start of TVA in 1933, we established a unique problem-solving approach to fulfilling our mission of service,” Maierhofer said. “Each challenge we face—whether it involves power generation, economic development or the environment—is studied in its broadest context. We weigh each factor in relation to the whole picture and make the best decision in the interests of the people who live and work in the Valley.”

Maierhofer added, “President Franklin Roosevelt would be proud to know we continue to fulfill his vision of ‘a corporation clothed with the power of government but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise.’ It is a vision that continues to be shared and copied around the world.”

Nengo and Sitemba plan to return to TVA with members of the Kenya Parliament; representatives of the presidency and the six RDAs; and the minister responsible for planning.