A transportation chief inspired by ‘Star Wars’


Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx says Han Solo and company introduced him to “some pretty futuristic transportation concepts.” So where’s our Millennium Falcon? (Melina Mara/THE WASHINGTON POST)

As we celebrate National Infrastructure Week (What? You didn’t know?) and the Senate considers a multi-year highway bill on Thursday, it seemed only fitting to do a Loop Background Check on President Obama’s transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx.

The former mayor of Charlotte, on the job less than a year, reveals in response to written questions, among other things, that Google chief Eric Schmidt would be his dream addition to the DOT team. He also hints, not so subtly, at a reading guilty pleasure.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Which Cabinet secretary would you most like to hang out with, and what would you do?

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. Secretary Lew is one of the smartest, most dedicated and grounded people I know. . . . I do not have a clue what Jack does for fun, but I would be up for anything — Minecraft, a Yankees game or fixing the Highway Trust Fund.

What’s your favorite non-work-related Web site/blog/app/
magazine?

My wife subscribes to Us Weekly. Occasionally, I happen to see it. I mean, I don’t really read it. Seriously.

Fill in the blank: People would be surprised to know that I ____.

Once traveled to New Orleans to learn to play jazz trumpet.

What’s your dream job (other than your current gig)?

I would probably own a professional sports franchise or make movies.

What is your favorite TV show?

It’s a tie. “Homeland.” It’s a great show but has a bit of a double meaning, since it is filmed in Charlotte. I have recently become a “Game of Thrones” fan, too.

Which character from that show do you most identify with?

Robb Stark. Occasionally underestimated, a proven fighter, possessed with a strong conscience and willing to pay the price for what he believes. (Loop side note: Did Foxx see the “Red Wedding”?)

Favorite movie (or movies)?

“Star Wars — A New Hope.” When I saw “Star Wars,” it sparked my imagination by telling a story of an unlikely hero — a boy who grew up with his aunt and uncle who had enormous untapped abilities. . . . Eventually, he learned to use his talent for good. While fictional, it offered me an object lesson in overcoming circumstances and fear. Plus, it introduced some pretty futuristic transportation concepts.

Favorite sport — to watch or play?

Basketball. I love to play and watch.

Favorite food (Italian, Indian, etc.)? Favorite dish?

New Orleans gumbo.

What subject, other than your work, do you know most about?

College basketball, especially the Davidson, Duke and North Carolina programs.

What’s one word you wish people would use to describe you?

Denzel. (Then he crossed it out). Authentic.

You can draft one person in the private sector to come work for the federal government. Who would it be, and what would you have them do?

Eric Schmidt from Google. We . . . need new and innovative ways to bring our transportation system into the 21st century. . . . I would make him chief innovation officer and charge him with helping us make even more effective use of data to measure our work and streamline our permitting systems. We would also accelerate our next generation air-traffic control system. We’re already working to do these things, by the way, but he’d be a force multiplier.

[Insert name] must go!

When the federal government messes up, a common response is to demand the resignation of the Cabinet secretary of the agency that blundered.

But as congressional Republicans intensified their cries for Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki to step down last week, it seems the “off with their heads” outcry is more about posturing than expecting an actual result. At this point, so many high-level officials in the Obama administration have been asked to step aside that the force of the demand is reduced to a base-pleasing sound bite.

Shinseki joins the ranks of secretaries Kathleen Sebelius, Timothy Geithner, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Eric Holder, Steven Chu, Janet Napolitano and Leon Panetta, as well as Susan Rice, who all at one point in their Cabinet tenures were called on to resign by one Republican or many. And while some did eventually do so, it’s not because Republicans asked them to. Several had been there since the first term and, as commonly happens in the second term, it was time to move on.

To be sure, demands that officials resign aren’t unique to the Obama administration. Democrats, for example, were adamant that George W. Bush’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, resign over the Iraq war.

John Hudak, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, concurred that it’s largely an attention-grabbing technique to feign influence. “It’s something that makes a statement, gets your name in the paper,” he said.

To take a trip down GOP-outrage memory lane, visit the Loop’s blog (address below) for a full list of why each Cabinet member was targeted.

An envoy shuffle

President Obama wants to move around his top diplomats in the Middle East, the White House made official Monday.

If confirmed by the Senate, Robert Beecroft, ambassador to Iraq, is headed to another high-stakes post — ambassador to Egypt. To replace Beecroft, Obama has nominated Stuart Jones, who is now ambassador to Jordan. Both men are career Foreign Service officers.

Beecroft has served all over the Middle East — as ambassador in Jordan, as well as at posts in Saudi Arabia and Syria. He was also executive assistant to secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Beecroft, who has been at the helm in Iraq since October 2012, would head to Egypt at a time of transition. The United States hasn’t had someone there since August.

Jones, who worked in Iraq several years ago, would return to that country at a time of renewed violence there. He’s also been a diplomat in Egypt, Turkey, El Salvador and Colombia.

— With Colby Itkowitz

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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