Ray LaHood Confirmation Hearing
Opening Statement

CQ Transcripts Wire
Wednesday, January 21, 2009 5:46 PM

FORMER REP. RAY LAHOOD (R-Ill.): Chairman Rockefeller and Ranking Member Hutchison, members of the committee, it's an honor for me to appear before you as president Obama's candidate for the United States secretary of transportation.

Today I will tell you a little about myself, communicate my vision for leading the department, if I am confirmed, and most importantly, hear about the issues you feel are important.

Before doing this, however, I want to emphasize two principles I will bring to everything I do at the department, if confirmed.

First is openness. That means an open door to you, to your Senate colleagues, to my former colleagues in the House, and to all Americans who depend on and care about our transportation system.

This was a basic principle of President Obama's campaign, and it will be a watchword for me at USDOT, if confirmed. No one person or agency has all the knowledge, insight or perspective needed, and so I will hear what people have to say before decisions are made.

The second principle I have lived by all of my public service career is fairness. If I am confirmed, I will have the somewhat unusual perspective of being a Republican in a Democratic administration.

This gives me a real appreciation of the value of listening to all sides when disputes arise and projects are reviewed. I hope you take my selection as a signal of the President's commitment to focusing his energies on policy rather than partisanship.

There are no Republican or Democratic transportation issues. There are national issues that affect us all.

While my primary mission, if confirmed, will be to bring President Obama's priorities to the department and see them effectively implemented, I will do so with a commitment to fairness across regional lines and across party lines. And I will do so in consultation with Congress, governors and local officials.

Now a little about myself. For 14 years I've had the honor of representing my hometown of Peoria, Illinois, and the 20 counties of the 18th district of Illinois in the U.S. House of Representatives. This district was previously represented by, among others, Abraham Lincoln, Everett Dirksen and Bob Michel.

I served on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee for six years and the Appropriations Committee for eight years. I also served in the Illinois House of Representatives. In one form or another I have worked for government and public service 30 years.

As I said before, my primary goal, if confirmed, will be effective implementation of President Obama's priorities. As I see it, this means a strong focus in at least four areas.

First, safety on the roads, on the rails, in the air and on the water. This has been and must continue to be the central focus of USDOT. This goal must guide everything done by both the leadership of the department and its workforce, who will be our partners in everything we do.

I know the committee established this goal when it created the department and is dedicated to the success of the safety mission. If confirmed, you can rely on me for the same dedication.

Second is the economy. I do not need to tell anyone here about the severe economic challenges we face -- 2.6 million jobs lost in '08 and unfortunately more to come in '09.

The President and his economic team have spoken about the need for quick action, and the economic recovery plan responds directly to that need.

Transportation is a big part of that plan, and one of my first tasks, if confirmed, will be to manage the open and effective use of those funds.

But job creation cannot be the only goal for these investments. As we attend to our immediate challenges, we must keep watch on longer-term results.

The most compelling reason for infrastructure investment is the lasting economic and social benefit it brings over decades and even generations.

Much of our economic strength is built on the wise infrastructure investments made by our predecessors. And so at a minimum, we cannot let the assets we inherit fall apart. I am committed to investments that will help bring the country's transportation assets up to a state of excellent repair.

Even as we repair what we have, we also must shape the economy of the coming decades by building new infrastructure. We need to leave something of value to those who come after us.

This work must be done with an eye toward our competitive position in the world, by investing in things like better freight movement. But it must also recognize a second major policy focus: our transportation system and the development it enables must be sustainable.

We must acknowledge the new reality of climate change. This has implications in all areas. The intercity rail and mass transit funding in the economic recovery plan are a part of the equation, but only a part.

Sustainability must permeate all we do, from highways and transit to aviation and ports. President Obama is committed to this principle and so am I.

Fourth is a strong focus on people and communities where they live and work. This can take many forms.

In aviation, it means a commitment to the passengers. An aviation system that focuses on the safety, convenience and confidence of the traveling public is a successful one.

For -- for surface transportation, it implies a commitment to the principles that some refer to as livability -- that is, investing in ways that respect the unique character of each community.

The era of one-size-fits-all transportation projects must give way to one where preserving and enhancing unique community characteristics, be they rural or urban, is a primary goal, rather than an afterthought.

And I intend to make livable communities a big part of what we're going to do hopefully under reauthorization and in some other areas.

These four areas -- safety, the economy, sustainability and livability -- will be major priorities for me, if I am confirmed.

But whatever our goals may be, we will not achieve them unless policy and investments are driven by outcomes. A key challenge for those who craft the nation's transportation programs -- that is, all of us here today -- will be linked -- will be to link decision-making to performance at all levels.

This will require a new commitment to measure performance, as was called for in the recent report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission, and to adjust our course where progress is too slow.

Performance measurement is key to assuring that new money is invested wisely and the public has enough confidence in our work to support continued investment.

To conclude, Mr. Chairman, thank you again. I want to work with this committee going forward, and I will respond to your questions. Thank you, sir.

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