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September 22, 1999


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Mr Public Servant For the New Millennium

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Nitish S Rele in Tampa

Bobby Jindal When Bobby Jindal turns down jobs at Harvard or Yale universities, he does not contemplate joining big-time private firms. Instead, he chooses to work for public systems that need serious attention.

For those who crib that there are not many role models for the youth, Jindal is indeed an inspiration.

At 28, Jindal is president of the University of Louisiana system -- one of the largest in the United States -- managing eight of that state's four-year universities. The system currently awards more than half of the public higher education degrees in Louisiana. It enrolls about 80,000 students, employs nearly 4,000 faculty and support staff, and administers operating budgets of over $ 450 million.

The universities compete nationally and internationally for students and faculty in engineering, pharmacy, business administration, aviation, communications and other fields.

Several influential magazines have hailed Jindal, who helped restore the health of Louisiana's medical system recently, as one of the most dynamic people to be watched in the new millennium.

"I am thoroughly enjoying my new assignment," said Jindal. "Education is such an important investment for our country's future. Indian readers know the vital role it has played in our community's success."

Jindal is clear about his objectives for the university system, all designed to promote academic excellence. "We are streamlining bureaucracy, eliminating unnecessary steps and paperwork, and identifying ways to increase our efficiency," he said.

"Second, we are promoting consistency, setting standards to promote best practices and help our schools learn from one another. And lastly, we are pushing academic excellence."

Just before taking up the University of Louisiana job in May, Jindal completed a year-long appointment as executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare in Washington, DC. In that capacity, he directed a staff of the 17-member commission, appointed by the Congress and the president.

The commission examined the $ 210 billion Medicare program and made recommendations to strength and improve Medicare in time for retirement of 77 million baby boomers. In March, the panel completed its work and a Medicare reform plan is now being drafted into legislation for Congress to consider.

Jindal, who returned to Louisiana after the Washington stint, volunteered his time to suggest how to use the $ 4.4 billion share of a national tobacco settlement that the state had won.

"I was asked by the top state legislative and administration officials to study the various ideas and experiences of other 46 states that entered into a legal settlement with the four major tobacco companies," he said. "I was more than happy to volunteer my time as a way of giving something back to Louisiana, which has been so supportive to me."

Jindal also was head of Louisiana's Department of Health and Hospitals. The department of 13,000 employees was facing a $ 1 billion deficit with Medicaid -- a public health program for low income people -- risking bankruptcy. But within a year of being hired in 1996, he produced a budget surplus of nearly $ 170 million.

Governor Mike Foster of Louisiana picked Jindal as the department's chief after he read a paper written by the young man that outlined solutions to the state's bloated health program. At that time, Foster remarked, "The appointment is a bit unorthodox due to his young age, but I am pleased to find such an exceptionally talented secretary."

"We moved Medicaid from the verge of bankruptcy to stable ground for the first time in many years," said Jindal.

During his tenure at the Department of Health and Hospitals, he revitalized Louisiana's Medicaid program by rescuing it from a $ 400 million deficit; posting three consecutive budget surpluses; lowering Medicaid spending three years in a row; and, establishing nationally recognized programs.

In addition, he was able to produce positive health outcomes while controlling costs. For example, even though the department's budget was cut by 25 per cent and 1,000 employees were reduced, Louisiana moved from 37th to the third best state in health screenings for children. It also increased its childhood immunizations from 50 per cent to nearly 90 per cent and offered new and expanded services to the elderly and disabled.

Jindal was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, by parents Amar and Raj Jindal, who immigrated to the United States nearly 27 years ago. "It's exciting to look at how many so young Indians are doing different things today," said Jindal, who has visited India a couple of times in the past.

A graduate of Brown University in Baton Rouge and a Rhodes Scholar, Jindal has written two honors theses and several articles on health care expenditures. He was accepted into Harvard and Yale,, but decided to return to Louisiana to head the department of health and hospitals.

Jindal has served as a senior consultant out of the Washington DC office of a consulting firm, McKinsey & Co. His job was to help companies navigate a health care marketplace transformed by managed care.

The American Institute for Public Service also picked him for the 1998 National Jefferson Award for the Greatest Public Service by an Individual 35 Years or Under.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis established the Jefferson Awards. Other Jefferson Award recipients have included former president George Bush's wife Barbara, former president Jimmy Carter, General Colin Powell and veteran radio broadcaster Walter Cronkite.

In 1997 and 1998, he was heralded as one of the young stars in the United States. Modern Healthcare Magazine named him one of 13 '1997 Up & Comers'; Scholastic Update declared him one of 'America's Top 10 Extraordinary Young People for the Next Millennium'; and A Magazine named him one of America's 25 most influential Asian Americans.

Last November, he was one of four Indian Americans who received the 1998 Excelsior Awards organized jointly by the New York chapters of the Association of Indians in America and the Network of Indian Professionals. The event was held at the Asia Society.

The Excelsior Awards were established to honor South Asians in the United States in fields such as academic, banking and finance, health care, media, publishing, literature, government and information technology, who serve as role models to the entire community.

Recently, the National Association of Government Accountants picked him for the Achievement of the Year Award.

Two years ago, Jindal married Supriya Jolly, a chemical engineer who is currently pursuing a doctorate in business.

Future plans? Politics?

"I never ruled it out," said Jindal. "Right now, I am occupied doing policy work. If I do take up politics, that's the only way I can make a contribution to society."

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