Transportation Secretary-designate Elizabeth Hanford Dole was accorded enormous respect and was asked few questions yesterday in a brisk, 102-minute confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee.
That may be because Dole was introduced to the panel by her husband, Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, who got one of the toughest questions of the day from Commerce Chairman Bob Packwood (R-Ore.).
"Have you filed your conflict-of-interest statement?" Packwood asked.
"I have no conflict, but there's a lot of interest," said Dole in the first of a series of one-liners. "I've known the nominee for about 10 years, and I regret that I have but one wife to give to my country's infrastructure . . . . I think she's well-qualified and I plan to vote for her."
After the pleasantries, the transportation community learned from the nominee's opening statement and her answers to the few direct questions that it should expect little change in Reagan administration transportation policy after the departure next Tuesday of Secretary Drew Lewis, who resigned to return to private business.
Dole said she was in favor of transportation deregulation, that she wanted to emphasize transportation safety, particularly the removal of drunk drivers from the road, and that she plans to move ahead in modernizing the nation's highways and airways.
The only question that was in any way adversarial came from Sen. Howell Heflin (D-Ala.), who said, not jokingly, "Conflicts could arise between you and Sen. Dole . . . . Can you see areas of conflict in your capacity as a Cabinet member and as a wife?"
Dole answered, "It's a matter of professional integrity. My husband and I have talked this over. We see no problem . . . . We have no hesitation about compartmentalizing. . . . "
In her current job as assistant to the president for public liaison, she said, there have been subjects she and her husband simply agreed not to discuss. "Not all information is exchanged," she said.
And Heflin responded, "I suppose this follows the custom that wives do have secrets from husbands and husbands from wives."
Dole reiterated, "I see it as a matter of professional integrity."
Dole avoided taking specific stands on deregulatory issues until she has had time for further study. But she indicated her general support for deregulation and her understanding that, in some instances, "dislocations" have occurred that have adversely affected small communities in receiving transportation services.
She was asked if she would be the administration's voice on maritime issues, including maritime regulatory reform, as Lewis has been. She said she had not discussed that with the White House.
Yesterday afternoon, however, the Transportation Department press office issued a release quoting Dole as saying that she would work through the Cabinet council system to carry out national maritime policy and would be "the administration's maritime spokesperson."
Most of the rest of the hearing was devoted to senators pushing their favorite projects. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) urged that Dole reprogram funds immediately so that the planned transfer of the Alaska Railroad from the federal government to the state can proceed. Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) urged the continuation of federal operating subsidies for mass transit, a position the administration has opposed, and Sen. Paul S. Trible Jr. (R-Va.) encouraged her to shift airport traffic from Washington National to Dulles International.
In other local matters, Dole said the administration is committed to completing 75 miles of Washington's Metro subway system, but said she would withhold judgment on the other 26 miles that are part of the official system plan. Thirty-nine miles are in operation.
She agreed with Packwood's characterization of Union Station as "an abomination," and said DOT proposals to fix the station would reach Capitol Hill by mid-February.
In written responses to questions asked before the hearing, Dole said priority issues include further deregulating the trucking industry; implementing the new highway reconstruction act, rebuilding the air traffic control system and instituting maritime regulatory reform.