With all the buzz taking place in Washington, and all the action underway in Manhattan, one inside-the-Beltway wag gave this reply when asked who might head the U.S. Department of Transportation: “Who knows if Trump is even aware that he has a secretary of transportation?”
Naming said person obviously isn’t a high priority in Trump Tower, despite the fact that the president-elect has promised to pour $1 trillion into roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Filling the juicy Cabinet jobs like secretary of state, attorney general and secretary of defense get all the attention, while the far less sexy transportation secretary isn’t quite so urgent.
But this is Washington, where even statues in the park are said to gossip, so the rumor mill is churning away.
All of the following comes under the heading of “people are talking,” though most of them preface their comments with “Of course, I really don’t know.” With a Hillary Clinton presidency, the handicapping would have easier: who had she worked with? Who was close to her and had some transportation background? President Obama was a former senator who had Washington connections (although nobody guessed he would name Ray LaHood, a Republican). George W. Bush had a bushel of his dad’s old cronies to fall back on for guidance.
Trump is the great unknown, who travels in his own plane, rides around in limos and calls a helicopter when he needs to. He has neither Washington transportation confidants nor much concept of how the common man gets from one place to the next.
So, here’s what the transportation rumor mill had to say: Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would be a great choice, one source says, but she adds “of course, he doesn’t want it.”
Former Reason Foundation analyst Shirley Ybarra is the Trump transition team member tasked with finding the new Sec/Trans, and there’s talk that she may be a candidate for the job herself. James S. Simpson, who ran New Jersey’s Department of Transportation under Chris Christie and calls himself a “transportation nut,” may get a look-see, but after Christie was banished from Trump’s inner-circle, Simpson may fall from favor.
Mark Rosenker, a retired Air Force major general who chaired the National Transportation Safety Board eight years ago, also is mentioned in the mill. And John L. Mica, who spent his college summers spraying defoliant along the nation’s railways, has been using the Florida media as a bullhorn to promote his candidacy for the top USDOT job.
Mica lost his re-election bid last week for a House seat he’d held since 1992. In more than two decades on Capitol Hill, he never was more happy that during the two years he served as chairman of the transportation committee, when he regularly denounced Amtrak as a “Soviet-style” operation, condemned the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and sought to privatize it, and began the effort to put the air traffic control system in private hands as well.
Despite the buzz, nobody really knows, and in a moment unusual for Washington, they admit as much.