In the first week of June 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Anne Ferro to lead the Motor Carrier Safety Administration. So where’s the Trump administration at this point? Who knows? Well, some people think they know, at least a little.
And because, in my asking around, the same names kept popping up—from beltway insiders and trucking interests that don’t necessarily see eye to eye on some issues—I thought I had a pretty good handle on who might take over at FMCSA. One source even suggested that the White House has completed interviews and has a name ready.
So without further ado, here are the names that are floating around (but please see the qualifying notes on my level of confidence):
- Cathy Gautreaux, executive director of the Louisiana Motor Transport Association. She is a past national Chairman of the Trucking Association Executives’ Council (TAEC) and received the American Trucking Associations’ TAEC Leadership Award in 2012. Full disclosure: I wrote several stories for the LMTA magazine on the association’s successful push for anti-indemnification legislation—quite a fight in a state with a substantial petrochemical industry and some big shippers who didn’t want to let go of their “take-it-or-leave-it” carrier contract language. In other words, she has quite a presence in the statehouse. She has not, however, returned my calls to confirm whether she has interviewed for the FMCSA top job, as I have been told. Of note, Ferro was CEO of the Maryland Motor Truck Association when the Obama administration tapped her for FMCSA—resulting in suggestions that she was too cozy with the industry she would regulate.
- Pat Thomas, after more than 30 years with UPS, recently retired senior vice president, state government affairs. Thomas also served as ATA chairman in 2016, which makes him even closer to big trucking than Gautreaux. I didn’t have a handy way to immediately contact him, but I did check in with ATA—and if they know anything, they’re not saying. So if you’re out there, Pat, drop us a note. And if you have been in touch with the Trump administration about the FMCSA job, my first question is: What’s so wrong with retirement?
- Colonel Scott G. Hernandez, Chief, Colorado State Patrol. He’s a 30-year veteran of CSP, and has led the agency since 2013. His official bio touts “a special interest in commercial motor vehicle safety” and that he was one of four state participants on the CSA 2010 program. He has also served on FMCSA's Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee since 2009. Of note, previous FMCSA Administrators Annette Sandberg and John Hill came from top state enforcement jobs. I did speak with Hernandez, and he confirmed his interest in the post at FMCSA—indeed, he seemed enthusiastic about the possibility—but, contrary to what I’d heard, he said he has not been interviewed for it. And that made me question this list.
Anyway, as several people pointed out, the FMCSA appointment might be a big deal for trucking, but with so many positions still unfilled, it’s not a priority for the Trump administration. On the other hand, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is a political pro and likely has a lot of leeway in tending to DOT business. But even at DOT, some of the other modal agencies may get higher billing.
Of course, FMCSA has gone without political leadership several times in its brief history. Ferro wasn’t confirmed until November 2009, and when she left in 2014 it was nearly two years before Scott Darling was formally confirmed to succeed her.
Still, with infrastructure and autonomous vehicle technology top of mind—and with an administration that would rather roll back regs than develop new ones—it would be good for trucking to have an official voice when policy decisions are being made.
Anybody got an inside tip?