Friday, December 19, 2008

Oberstar hails Obama's pick for Secretary of Transportation

Transportation policy: Obama picks Illinois Rep. LaHood as Transportation Secretary

Oberstar praises decision, noting LaHood will get all major transportation stakeholders to work together on pertinent tasks


Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
Logistics Management
Copyright 2008

WASHINGTON—President-elect Barack Obama has selected Ray LaHood, a Republican Congressman from Illinois, as Secretary of Transportation, according to various media reports, which indicated the nomination will be made official in the coming days.

LaHood has served in Congress for the last 14 years and is retiring from his position. He is the second Republican to be named to President-elect Obama’s cabinet, with Defense Secretary Robert Gates remaining in his position for at least the first year of Obama’s term. LaHood is likely to play a key role in the new administration, with infrastructure development being viewed as a major driver for re-building the economy and creating and saving jobs.

In his weekly radio address on Saturday, December 6, Obama said that rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure is a major driver for saving or creating at least two and a half million jobs. And he vowed that his commitment to infrastructure will be the single, largest new investment in national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system under President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 1950s. And yesterday it was reported that Obama’s economic team is drafting an economic stimulus plan that is likely to exceed $800 billion.

Some of the myriad challenges LaHood will face in his new role, including: continuing the capital infusion of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) at a time when the HTF recently required an $8 billion infusion from the General Trust Fund to remain solvent and sinking revenues due to the lack of a gas tax increase since 1993; the upcoming reauthorization of he Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), the surface transportation authorization law, provides roughly $286.4 billion guaranteed for funding highways and public transportation; the potential for railroad re-regulation, and the future of public-private partnerships; Coast Guard and Federal Aviation Administration (including the air traffic controllers contract situation) restructuring; and tolling, among others.

A former member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee for six years, LaHood is said to have a close relationship with Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, according to a Chicago Tribune report, which also noted “he has not shied away from criticizing the Bush administration and has a reputation for working with leaders of both political parties.”

Obama’s choice of LaHood was widely praised by various domestic transportation officials.

In a conference call with the media, House T&I Committee Chairman James L. Oberstar lauded the selection of LaHood as Transportation Secretary as “superb.”

What the Transportation Secretary position needs more than anything, said Oberstar, is a high level of effective management to get all major stakeholders working together, with the Secretary getting all the federal modal administrators talking to each other, which he said will be a key component of the next transportation bill.

“Intermodalism has not happened at the DOT in a long time, and we need to start it and sustain it in order for this agency to work well,” said Oberstar. “There has to be deliverability, and we have to cut through the time it takes issue permits and rulemakings, and deliver services to the public…and [LaHood] is the kind of person to do that.”

When asked how LaHood will address the country’s needs for improved transportation infrastructure and the commitment “to get America moving again,” Oberstar said LaHood clearly understands the costs of congestion and will be ready to work with the House T&I Committee to draft its proposed $85 billion legislation proposal (that is currently being finalized with the House Appropriations Committee and House Speaker of which $48 billion is allocated towards the transporation sector) and be ready to introduce it before the incoming Obama administration has its economic stimulus proposal officially completed.

Edward R. Hamberger, President and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, also praised Obama’s selection of Hood, noting in a statement that as the nation faces enormous transportation challenges, capacity is an issue across all modes of transportation as is the need to maintain and improve existing infrastructure.

“Accomplishing all this while simultaneously reducing transportation's carbon footprint will require a bi-partisan approach,” said Hamberger. “Rep. LaHood is respected by members on both sides of the aisle and has a demonstrated ability to work with both Democrats and Republicans. His experience as a key member of the House Appropriations Committee will be invaluable, especially in these difficult economic times. This background makes Ray LaHood uniquely qualified to lead the Department of Transportation at a time when transportation challenges have never been greater.”

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