And the New Head of DOT Is . . .
UPDATE: Trump has just announced that he will appoint Elaine Chao to head the Department of Transportation. She is the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell–so much for “draining the swamp”– and served as Secretary of Labor for George W. Bush. No history uncovered so far that might indicate where she stands on the subject of Amtrak in particular or passenger rail in general.
Ordinary folks tend to brush off a lot of these appointments without fully understanding how important they are. Presidents—in fact, governors and big city mayors, too—necessarily rely on key appointees to develop policy for their individual departments, subject to approval by the chief executive. That’s how it works in any large bureaucracy, public or private.
But in the Trump Administration, those department heads are going to have unprecedented responsibility. By now it should be clear to everyone, whether Democrat or Republican, that the president-elect is only vaguely familiar with most of the issues and is temperamentally disinclined to learn more. To develop policy—whether foreign or judicial or transportation—President Trump is going to rely very heavily on his appointees.
For example, it’s very easy to imagine the person he appoints to run the Department of Transportation sending Trump a formal recommendation that the Interstate Highway System be converted to toll roads. That idea is, in fact, entirely compatible with the ideology of the several people who came to the Trump Transition Team from one of the Libertarian “think tanks”. It’s all too easy to visualize Trump skimming through some radical new proposal and saying, “Hell of an idea! Make it so”, then going back to tweeting a snarky comment about an editorial in the New York Times he hated.
Those of us who are advocates for more and better and faster trains are holding our collective breaths, and I think it’s fair to say that most of us fear the worst. Probably the best we can hope for is that the next Secretary of Transportation is someone who has simply never given any serious thought to passenger trains one way or another.
I worked obs for Amtrak for 14 years 1998-2012 and during BUSH’S term, most of us felt more comfortable Amtrak would remain stable, and not only did it, but during is administration, several trains were added (not discontinued as the des. wind, pioneer, broadway limited, and drastic florida trains cut back during the Clinton years) Stop generalizing republicans when they DO IN FACT support rail, however that means EFFICIENT rail. As an insider at Amtrak the waste, theft, incompetence, and unaccountability is OUTRAGEOUS. The republicans tend to be the ones that want to make Amtrak efficient, not kill it.
My problem is with those Republicans who oppose Amtrak on the basis of political philosophy … that is, because it is government supported. And a number of Republicans, especially in the House, would kill Amtrak in a heartbeat, the preferred means being by a thousand cuts. Just one case in point: Pete Sessions of Texas introduced a bill that would have killed the Sunset Limited … a train that runs across his entire state!
I,too, have heard the complaints of “waste, theft, incompetence” etc. The problem is, no one with first-hand knowledge seems willing to step forward and blow the whistle. I assure you, there are members of Congress from both parties who would be glad to pursue those allegations.
It is a shame that no matter who Trump appoints, to any position he makes will be scrutinized by the media as wrong. But it was the media that was wrong in predicting “HER” winning the election. So what does that tell you? I think the DOT. choice is a fair pick. What did Transportation Sec. Fox do for Amtrak?? I worked over 30 yrs. for Amtrak, through some of their most turbulent years & administrations, under BOTH parties. In my opinion Elizabeth Dole, who was predicted to fail as DOT head, was one of the fairest to Amtrak & all transportation modes AT the time. So folks, give Chao a chance.
Fair enough. I do know that NARP issued a statement acknowledging her previous experience as Secretary of Labor. NARP President and CEO Jim Mathews said, “Given her frontline experience with Amtrak in 2002, we have confidence she understands how important these trains are to the millions of people they serve, in both rural towns and big cities.” We shall see.
> So folks, give Chao a chance.
I do not understand the “give X a chance” meme. She is a blank slate on transportation issues – which is all this article, and others, has said. It is entirely fair to question the appointment of someone to manage X who has no history concerning X; that is not how you hire people. If my employer hired a manager for my department with no experience in the industry or field . . . I would probably quit and find another employer – because it demonstrates a disrespect for the professionalism of those involved, which would inevitably not be beneficial for the participants.
Anyway she will “get a chance” – it is her appointment after all. Everyone else gets to live with whatever happens.
Did you not read what Jim Loomis & NARP said re her previous experience wrote??? Or are you one of these people, no matter who Trump appoints to ANY position find fault?? Drew Lewis, DOT sec. under Reagan, who at the time was supposed to dissolve Amtrak under budget cuts, came through with a supplemental budget appropriation to HELP Amtrak meet a payroll & continue service during a budget shortfall, under his watch. And believe me, I know, I was working for Amtrak at the time.
It might be worthwhile to ask the new transportation sec do an experiment…fly, drive or ride a train incognito across the country.
Wouldn’t that be an enlightened thing to do!
She almost certainly has flown across the country. If my informal surveys are correct about ~15-20% of Americans have crossed the majority of the nation in an automobile. And less than 1% have ridden a long distance train. Probably if you live on the coasts the automobile number is lower and possibly the rail number is a couple ticks higher.
That is the problem for rail/transit advocates: especially for the boomer population, they are not that familiar with the available services, so they just don’t think about them.